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Florida woman seeks mother's birth family in Northern Quebec

A Florida woman is looking for answers about her mother's birth family. Amanda Willette hopes to give her mom closure by finding out if she was a child of the Sixties Scoop, and whether she was taken from a Cree family in Quebec.

'I need to know what connects me to this earth,' says Amanda Willette

Vickie Fortunato and her daughter Amanda Willette. Willette wants answers about her mother's birth family, who she believes may be a Cree family from Quebec. (submitted by Amanda Willette)

A Florida woman whose mother may have been taken from a Cree family during the Sixties Scoop is searching for answers for herself and her mom.

Amanda Willette's mother was born Mary Salt in 1956 and adopted at the age of five or six through a Catholic agency believed to be in the Toronto area.

Vickie Fortunato was given the birth name Mary Salt in 1956. Salt is a common name in in the Quebec Cree community of Waskaganish. (submitted)

"I need to know what connects me to this earth," said Willette, who lives near Orlando with her wife and young son.

"There are so many things about myself that I just don't understand because I've always felt like someone without a home."

During the period known as the Sixties Scoop, between the 1960s and 1980s, the federal government estimates that more than 11,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families — often without their parents' consent — and placed with mostly non-native adoptive families.

"I started doing more digging and I said, 'You know Ma there's more to this than you were abandoned. You really need to look into this,'" said Willette.

"But there's a lot there that is extremely painful for her. So I'm hoping there is some closure, some healing somewhere for her."

Willette's mother grew up as Vickie Fortunato in New York state with Italian-American parents.

Willette says the adoptive parents adored her mom, and her. "They were wonderful, wonderful people."

But with some in the extended family, it was a different story.

"They really didn't accept us. It was whispers behind the back, 'Well you know she's really an Indian, she's really a wild woman,'" said Willette.

"[They would say] 'she's a squaw.' It was common to hear from cousins. You didn't really fit in."

Clues to birth family

Willette says, as well as knowing where she comes from, she also hopes to get information about her mother's family for health reasons. She has severe epilepsy and her son was recently diagnosed with autism.

Willette wants to know where she comes from, but she also hopes to get information about her mother’s family for health reasons. (submitted)
"I'm not even necessarily looking for even a personal one-on-one relationship. If that's not something that can happen, I'm OK with that. I just need some good, solid ground to what's running through our veins."

Willette knows her mom was adopted with an older boy named William who grew up in the same family and had similar features. But she doesn't know if they were actually brother and sister, and the two are no longer in touch.

She also has an uncle she trusts who said her mother came from "French Canadian territory."

The Salt name is very common in the Quebec Cree community of Waskaganish, on the eastern shores of James Bay. Willette says a genealogist also told her to look around Parry Sound, Ont.

Empathizes with Sixties Scoop moms

Willette says she deeply empathizes with the mothers whose children were taken during the Sixties Scoop because government officials tried to convince her to put her own son in residential care to be treated for autism. 

"They get inside your head and they make you believe that this is what is best," she explained.

Willette thinks it's possible that there's another woman out there — her biological grandmother — who this happened to. If she could simply tell that woman that her mother is OK, she says that would be good enough for her.

"As another mother, that would mean the world to me."

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