Sixties Scoop adoptee recounts growing up in Jewish Montreal family
Born Cree in Saskatchewan, Nakuset grew up in a very different world
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I needed a baby picture for my Bat Mitzvah party. The plan was to blow it up to 18 inches by 24 inches and all my friends could write messages on it.
But I didn't have any baby pictures.
The earliest photograph I had was the photo used during my adoption.
My adoptive parents went to Jewish Family Services, wanting to adopt a child.
It was the trend in 1970 to offer First Nations children to non-Aboriginal homes.
A government imposed initiative which has become known as "the 60's scoop"— the solution to the enduring "Indian problem."
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After the federal residential schools began to close down, the government started a provincial assimilation process. In the late 1950s they began sending social workers into the reservations to "evaluate" if Aboriginal parents were able to bring up their children.
These children were then put into the foster care system or adopted out.
'Don't tell her she's native'
It was really difficult growing up in a culture that didn't match your own. I was almost three years old when I was adopted.
Old enough to know that this was not my home. Cautiously waiting to see if I would be moved again.
The fact that I didn't resemble any members of my adoptive family weighed heavily on me.
I so desperately wanted to belong. Outsiders would always question why I looked so different.
It didn't help that the adoption agency advised my parents to erase my roots.
"Change her name. Don't tell her she's native. Immerse her into Jewish culture"
So, my parents, trying to be helpful, said, "When people ask why you look different, tell them you are Israeli".
I passed on that advice.
I was proud of being native. I told everyone I was. I was hungry for my culture and looked for it everywhere.
This was not an easy task. So I chose to wear Cherokee jeans, because their logo had an Indian head dress. I watched The Beachcombers so I could watch the native character Jesse. I even stared longingly at the Manitoba flag with its buffalo head, knowing that's where my people are from.
I think my parents had good intentions and were trying to "save me."
Stereotypes and shame
There is such misinformation about First Nations people. When I asked about my culture, I would often get often negative responses.
"When you go to a Jewish home, you will find lots of food on their table. When you go to an Indian home, you will find drugs and alcohol."
"If you returned to your reservation, they would be so jealous that you brought up in a wealthy home. The girls would beat you up and the boys would rape you."
"If you're not careful, you will end up a drug addict and a prostitute, like so many of your people".
Their version of reverse psychology. Not helpful. I felt ashamed.
I was so confused. Although I had a great appreciation for the Jewish culture as my parents brought me to synagogue, put me in Hebrew school and Jewish summer camps, I struggled to fit in.
'She always believed in me'
I moved out when I became of age.
It took me a couple of years to then find my way to Native Friendship Centre of Montreal (NFCM). But when I did, I felt welcomed.
Plus, I met all kinds of Jewish Indians. To share the same lived experience was awesome.
I no longer felt alone.
I got a BA in human relations. I started working at the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, where I am currently the executive director. I'm also the co-chair of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network. I work with all different organizations and government agencies to help improve the lives of urban Aboriginals.
I often wonder how I got here.
A huge reason for my success is my Bubbi (Yiddish for grandmother). She always believed in me, even though I didn't believe in myself.
She predicted I would do great things one day. I told her that I was probably going to jail.
If I am a good person today, it is to her benefit.
Although my childhood was challenging, I am extremely grateful for the experience.
It made me who I am today.
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Nakuset is Cree from Lac La Ronge, Sask. Adopted as part of the 60's scoop, she uses the experience to improve the lives of urban Aboriginal people in Montreal.