Sixties Scoop survivor honoured in Quispamsis school's art installation
Minda Burley was taken from her home on Cree territory in Western Canada
Close to 14,000 hand-painted cardboard squares were collected and assembled to tell the story of Sixties Scoop survivor Minda Burley.
The art installation was a year-long project by the students and teachers of Quispamsis Middle School to create a temporary collage recognizing the history of the Sixties Scoop and bringing awareness to the Every Child Matters movement.
Between the 1950s and early 1990s, more than 22,500 Indigenous children in Canada were apprehended by child welfare agencies and placed with non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents and lost their cultural identities as a result.
The installation, 18 by 18 metres, was displayed at the QPlex arena in Quispamsis.
Burley shared her story with students, and the school partnered with artist Bonny Hill of Sussex to make the project happen.
WATCH | School art project aimed at inspiring young people to work toward truth and reconciliation
The collage is a recreation of a photo of Burley when she was an infant and taken from her home on Cree territory in Western Canada.
The photo was placed in a Saskatchewan newspaper ad titled "Adopt the Métis child."
Burley and her younger sister were placed into the foster system and adopted by the family of an RCMP officer who moved them to Sussex.
Burley said she was cut off from her identity and for a portion of her life, was not even made aware that she was Indigenous.
They were adopted in 1968 but didn't get their birth certificates until 1972.
"We had no idea that we were even native when we were younger," Burley said. "Our parents never talked about it. They never really told anybody. So we didn't know anything. Where we came from? Nothing."
Burley said it was only three years ago that she found out that she had been taken from her biological family.
"We knew we were adopted, so my sister knew where we were in Saskatchewan. She went to the office to find information on us and back then, they wouldn't give her any information. So we kind of let it go. Then my cousin got into it, and she found us a lawyer and this is how we found out where we were from."
Burley said seeing the installation completed was a profound moment.
"It brings everything to a 360-degree turn, where I didn't know anything about my life and now I'm still learning about it. But all of a sudden, it's going to be out there for the world to see now.
"This is one person's picture, but there's thousands of children out there that were scooped in the sixties and I think this is very powerful."
Prior to the project, Burley and Hill were friends and both women knew each other's families.
Hill said hearing Burley's story moved her.
"She started telling me about this and it wasn't that much later when we started hearing about Kamloops and finding the unmarked graves … it just really shocked me and really bothered me and it's unbelievable."
The idea to use cardboard for the project came about when Hill noticed an excess of the material in her home.
Hill was approached by Heidi Stoddart, a teacher at Quispamsis Middle School, and asked if Hill wanted to work on an art project that would help students learn about the history of the Sixties Scoop.
Both Burley and Hill were inspired to hear what students learned doing the project.
Sophie Lesser, in Grade 8, has been helping out on the project since last September.
"This project is really important to me because I feel like I'm making a little difference in the world, even if it's just a one- day installation," she said. "I feel like I can make a little bit of a change to other people around Canada and hopefully inspire more truth and reconciliation."
The school hopes to continue the project and share more stories of other survivors.
Burley's sister has already volunteered for the second portrait.
The installation was only be available to view on Friday. Then, Burley said, she is taking the next step in reclaiming her identity and family ties.
She and her sister will travel back to Saskatchewan in August to meet with their biological sister.
"We're hopefully going to find some more brothers and sisters while we're out there for a couple of weeks or so," Burley said.
"That's our journey this year, is to find some of our family because we're not getting any younger and the time is now to do this."
With files from Information Morning Saint John