Sixties Scoop settlement dredges up old memories, survivors say

Two survivors of the Sixties Scoop reflect on their experiences and respond to the federal government's $800 million agreement with survivors.

Tauni Sheldon and Peter Ittinuar were taken from their Indigenous families as children

Tauni Sheldon is seen here in a baby photo that was used in a Toronto newspaper column that advertised her to prospective parents. (Tauni Sheldon)

"Ellen is a contented baby who eats and sleeps well and is not at all demanding.

"A sober little girl, she doesn't often smile or laugh, but she doesn't fuss either. She is very strong – you see how she's raising herself off the floor.

"Little Miss Eskimo can't crawl yet but she moves around anyway, pulling with her arms and pushing with her sturdy legs. She's big for her age and has lovely almond-shaped eyes and round cheeks."

That is how Tauni Sheldon was advertised in the Today's Child column in the Toronto Telegram. She was, the column's author Helen Allen noted, "the first Eskimo ever to appear in Today's Child."

"When I see that clipping, it reads much like a car ad," Sheldon told The Morning Edition's Craig Norris.

The same day she was born in Thunder Bay, Sheldon was taken from her birth mother.

"She was able to have me for three hours after I was born and then social services and children's aid came and took me," she said.

"I just can't stop thinking of her experience – having a newborn and then having baby taken away. I mean, that's unfathomable. And for that to have happened to thousands of Indigenous children, I have mixed feelings."

Tauni Sheldon is pictured here as a baby and to the right is the faded newspaper clipping from the Toronto Telegram that advertised her for interested parents as an "Eskimo Baby." (Tauni Sheldon)

A better life?

Sheldon, who now lives near Rockwood, Ont., was taken in the Sixties Scoop, a phrase given to the period of time when Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their birth families and adopted to families who lived in other communities.

She said she doesn't think the Sixties Scoop was done in malice, but it still altered the course of her life.

Sheldon was adopted by a family in Milton, Ont., and said while they were happy to adopt her – her adoptive father worked in the North as a pilot and "he wanted the Eskimo baby" – she always had that nagging feeling that she didn't belong.

"I had questions when I was young: why do I look different and where do I come from," she said, as well as "a lot of mixed feelings," including anger, confusion and sadness.

And while people have argued she had a better life with her adopted family, Sheldon's not so sure that's true.

Peter Ittinuar was 12 when he was sent to live with white families in Ottawa during the Inuit Sixties Scoop. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

'We were defenseless'

The psychological impact of being taken from your family cannot be overstated, said to Peter Ittinuar, who was taken from his family as an adolescent.

Ittinuar grew up on the land, and was learning to be a hunter from his grandfather. Then, at the age of 12, he and three other boys were taken to live with a family in Ottawa. 

He told The Morning Edition's Craig Norris that someone wanted to see how the Inuit boys measured up to boys raised in an urban setting. 

"If we failed miserably, then that was okay, because that's what they expected," he said, but "we did okay."

Like Sheldon, Ittinuar does not believe there was any malicious intent behind his move to Ottawa. "It was just innocent," he said. "Kind of, well, we'd better do this for them. That was the era."

Ittinuar did return to Nunavut, and was even a Nunatsiaq MP for a time, but he now calls Brantford home. Although his childhood is years behind him, he said the impact is still felt today. 

"We were defenseless. We were young kids without our parents or aunts and uncles to defend us if we were picked on, so it was difficult."

Tauni Sheldon laughs with her son, Albie Galliford. Sheldon is Inuit and was taken from her birth parents in the Sixties Scoop. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Next generation's right of passage

Sheldon met her birth mother when she was an adult and admits it was a rocky relationship at the beginning.

"She's had to come to peace with a lot of things," she said.

Earlier this month, the federal government announced a $800 million agreement with Sixties Scoop survivors, to compensate Indigenous people for being separated from their families.

Sheldon said she plans to share settlement money with her mother.

But while the settlement was welcome news, Sheldon said it has also brought back many of the feelings she had as a child.

"I've thought about not wanting to be Inuk," she admitted. "I guess I feel like I've gone back to that childhood feeling since all of this has come out in the open – definitely when I was a child I did not want to be Eskimo."

But Sheldon said she sees the future in her 12-year-old son, Albie Galliford.

"He has really embraced it," she said. "That's his right of passage. I think of that – continuing the right of passage that was broken for me, because it was my right of passage that didn't happen the way it was supposed to."