'You can't do this to people': Sixties Scoop survivors tell their stories in Winnipeg

Shannon Marks and her mother Linda Dwyer are together today, but they are still working at putting together the pieces of a relationship torn apart for more than two decades.

Linda Dwyer spent 23 years searching for her daughters

Linda Dwyer, left, and her daughter Shannon Marks look at photos of the day they reunited after being separated for 23 years through the Sixties Scoop. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Shannon Marks and her mother Linda Dwyer may be together today, but they are still working at putting together the pieces of a relationship torn apart for more than two decades.

Marks and her baby sister were taken from Dwyer in 1969, in what we now call the Sixties Scoop.

Dwyer was living in B.C. at the time, and had taken her daughters to a child welfare agency looking for help to get away from an an abusive relationship.

She'd expected help finding a safe place for them to stay.

But it wound up being the last time the young mother would see her daughters for 23 years.

Linda Dwyer says she was completely cut off from her daughters after going to a child welfare agency for help getting away from an abusive partner in 1969. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"When I got there they gave me a one way ticket to Toronto and they took my girls," remembers Dwyer.

"Every year I wrote and said 'you have to tell them that I didn't abandon them — that I love them.'

"It brought me down to my knees."

Marks, who was five, and her sister were taken into foster care in B.C. and Dwyer was cut off completely.

Dwyer says she wrote the agency letters pleading to have her daughters returned to her once she'd settled and remarried in Toronto, but says she was always told it wasn't possible — they'd been adopted into a stable home.

'Frantically looking for a home'

That wasn't the case says Marks, who has since gotten her child welfare files through a freedom of information request.

Marks says her files show she was being sexually abused at the first of two foster homes where she and her sister spent the next five years.

They hadn't actually been adopted out at all, she says.

"My mom is writing letters asking for our return, that she's got a stable environment and they told her that we had been adopted," said Marks.

"In the meantime they were frantically looking for a home to put us in because they knew I was being sexually abused and beaten.

Linda Dwyer says she was completely cut off from her daughters after going to a child welfare agency for help getting away from an abusive partner in 1969. 2:30

"Instead of giving us back to our mom they… took us to another foster home and within three days I was given a new name and I was told to never use my old name or I would get a spanking."

Marks said those new names were a way to keep Dwyer from being able to track them down.

"And all along our mom was looking for us."

Survivor stories and settlement

Marks and Dwyer shared their story at a symposium in Winnipeg Saturday, that's aimed to lay the groundwork for reconciliation with the Canadian government for Sixties Scoop survivors.

The Sixties Scoop is the catch-all name for a series of policies enacted by provincial child welfare authorities starting in the mid-1950s, which saw thousands of Indigenous children taken from their homes and families, placed in foster homes, and eventually adopted out to white families from across Canada and the United States.

These children lost their names, their languages, and a connection to their heritage. Sadly, like Marks, many were also abused and made to feel ashamed of who they were.

The Métis​ Nation has worked to repatriate some of the families affected by the Sixties Scoop and they're pursuing negotiation — rather than litigation — with Canada for a settlement.

Manitoba Métis Federation leader David Chartrand says for the first time, the Canadian government is willing to discuss a settlement for survivors of the Sixties Scoop. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Manitoba Métis Federation leader David Chartrand says for the first time, the government is at the table and he expects the Métis to reach a settlement by October 2019.

"We have a government that's in place that's willing to do it, that's agreed to negotiate and agreed to settle," said Chartrand.

"But that can all change when a new government comes into play — I can't risk that.

"Because this generation… they're in their 50s and 60s and they're hurting. I don't want them to leave this world knowing that nobody cared for them or dealt with their matter or healed them from what they robbed from them."

'You can't do this to people'

Marks finally ran away from the abuse at the age of 13, and her sister followed shortly after.

Both spent some time on the streets before finally finding Dwyer through an adoption reunion registry in 1992.

The three met just before Mother's Day at the airport in Prince George, B.C.

"We had four or five minutes of everyone just crying — nobody knew what to say," remembered Marks.

"We were together after all those years for Mother's Day."

Marks brought along a photo of her and her sister meeting their mother in 1992 to the symposium Saturday. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

While Dwyer still lives in Toronto and Marks lives near her family in B.C., the pair are now close and see each other regularly.

But they want acknowledgement for the years they lost.

"I want them to own what they have done to us," said Dwyer.

"They did this because they felt they had the power to do what they wanted to do.

"You can't do this to people — you destroy them."

Canada took thousands of Indigenous children from their parents between the 1960s and the 1980s, and the effects are still being felt today. 4:09

With files from Erin Brohman