'No amount of money can replace never meeting my mother': Healing an ongoing journey for '60s Scoop survivor

Nina Segalowitz, born Anne-Marie Thrasher in Fort Smith, N.W.T., is one of tens of thousands of Indigenous children who were taken from their families over a decades-long period known as the Sixties Scoop.

Delivery of interim payments from 2017 settlement expected to start this week

Nina Segalowitz was taken from her Fort Smith birth family as part of the Sixties Scoop. 'It’s not about the money. It’s about the time that was lost,' she says. (Submitted by Nina Segalowitz)

Nina Segalowitz was originally hesitant to go through with it.

After seeing the emotional toll the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had on Indigenous Canadians, the Inuvialuit woman questioned whether she wanted to put herself and her family through the long, drawn out process of taking part in a class action lawsuit against Canada's government for being taken from her home decades ago.

In the end, she decided she would take part in the Sixties Scoop class action suit, not only for herself, but for her children and for the mother she never met.

"Her name was Margaret Thrasher and apparently she was an incredible woman," she said during a recent interview with Loren McGinnis, the host of CBC's The Trailbreaker, from her home in Montreal.

Nina Segalowitz never met her mother, Margaret Thrasher, now buried in Yellowknife. (Submitted by Nina Segalowitz)

Nina, born Anne-Marie Thrasher in Fort Smith, N.W.T., is one of tens of thousands of Indigenous children who were taken from their families over a decades-long period and lost their cultural identities as a result.

She is also one of the more than 34,000 who applied for compensation from a November 2017 settlement agreement with the Government of Canada.

It set aside $750 million to compensate First Nations and Inuit children who were removed from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents between 1951 and 1991.

Starting this week, interim payments of $21,000 are expected to begin to be delivered to people whose applications have already been approved.

"People ask me, 'is that enough?' I said, 'No.' No amount of money can replace never meeting my mother," Segalowitz said.

"It's not about the money. It's about the time that was lost."

One question she's often asked is what she will do with the settlement payment. 

"I'm bringing my girls up to Yellowknife," she said. 

"That's what I'm doing. I'm bringing my kids up to spend time with family, which was what was robbed from them."

'A long journey to help survivors'

Doug Lennox is a lawyer with Klein Lawyers, one of the firms that helped negotiate the settlement. He said the vast number of claimants shows what tremendous impact the Sixities Scoop had on Indigenous communities — and on Canada's history.

The deadline for people to make a claim expired in December. It's been a process to work through them, said Lennox, which in some cases, involves going through documents dating back 50 years.

He said a second cheque will come once the total number of eligible claimants is known.

"This is a long journey to help survivors," he said. 

"We've been looking for a way to get people a first payment and we've now been able to do that. The $21,000 is a down payment that I hope will provide comfort to some individuals.

"We made this change because we didn't want people to wait any longer until they got some money."

Segalowitz, who has been critical of what she sees as a lack of proper consultation between lawyers and survivors over the settlement payment, said she first heard about the cheques through Facebook.

"I don't think it's the money but it's the emotional toll that it brings," she said.

"It's something that's out of my hands. Being taken away from my family was out of my control and not having a platform going through the legal system, but telling our stories — which is part of the healing — we weren't able to do that."

"I want to send a message of support and encouragement to everyone going through this," she said.

"Don't give up. If you're having emotions, just reach out and someone will be there for you."

If you are in distress, the N.W.T. Help Line offers free, confidential counselling and support 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-661-0844.

Outside the N.W.T., the Hope for Wellness Help Line provides counselling support to First Nations and Inuit 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-855-242-3310.

Written by John Van Dusen, based on an interview by Loren McGinnis, produced by Kate Kyle