'We need reconnections': Sask. apology a first step but much more needs to happen, says Sixties Scoop survivor

Crystal Semaganis said the Saskatchewan government's apology was a good first step, but she hopes it will open the door to more tangible benefits for those who lived through the Sixties Scoop.

Story of Crystal Semagnis's family and their Sixties Scoop ordeal was told in CBC podcast Finding Cleo

Crystal Semaganis, right, with her brother Johnny Semaganis. They and their other siblings were taken into government care and adopted into non-Indigenous families during the Sixties Scoop. They told their story of their search for their missing sister, Cleopatra, in the podcast Finding Cleo. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Crystal Semaganis knows first-hand the trauma inflicted on the victims of the Sixties Scoop.

She and her siblings Johnny, Mark, Annette, April and Cleo were taken into government care in the early 1970s and adopted into non-Indigenous families in Canada and the United States.

Their plight is documented in the CBC podcast Finding Cleo, which follows the Cree family's search for their missing sister, Cleopatra Semaganis Nicotine.

They were among tens of thousands of Indigenous children taken from their families between the 1960s and 1980s and adopted into mostly white families.

On Monday, Premier Scott Moe officially apologized Monday for Saskatchewan's role in the Sixties Scoop.

Semaganis, who previously went by the name Christine Cameron, said the apology was a good first step.

"To acknowledge in the public record, that is a big thing," she said of Moe's apology in a Tuesday interview with CBC News.

"However, that should not be the culmination of reconciliation. This should be a door open into more things.

"I am going to be optimistic and hope that this is a first step rather than the conclusion of something that has been going on for literally decades."

Semaganis, who lives in Ottawa, saw a photo from the ceremony that highlighted two empty chairs for those who had died.

The image was heart-wrenching for her.

An undated photo of Cleopatra Semaganis Nicotine. (Submitted by Semaganis family)

"These are two chairs," she wrote in a Facebook post.

"One chair is for Sixties Scoopers who have died before hearing this apology. I can see Cleo sitting there. She was only 13 when she killed herself, unable to process the scoop effects in her life. She died of a broken heart.

"And the other chair is for mothers and parents who died before hearing the apology. I can see my mother there, that beautiful Lillian Semaganis who could never unravel her trauma, either. She also died of a broken heart (died two days after finishing her testimony at the Residential School trials in Prince Albert in 2014)," she wrote.

"Whatever the apology was or was not … to you, may you never experience the anguish and sheer loss our family has suffered in trying to reconcile years of longing for something that will never be."

Semaganis said she was also picturing her brother Miles, who died at a young age before the Sixties Scoop, and her late sister Annette.

"Out of the seven of us only one had a positive outcome with the Sixties Scoop. The rest of us died tragically, horribly," she said in Tuesday's interview.

"Cleo committed suicide. My sister Annette was 40 and drank herself to death and died of cirrhosis of the liver. Miles died at a very young age."

In order for us to break the cycle we need access to programs and services that support us. We need reconnections.- Crystal Semaganis

And that is just one family's heartache, she said.

"We are just one of thousands of families across Canada that suffered these effects.

"There is so much tragedy embedded, layer upon layers. This is 2019 and it took all of these decades for the government to say, 'Oh that was wrong of us.'"

Semaganis' Sixties Scoop ordeal has resulted in many health issues, including attachment disorder, PTSD, depression and anxiety.

"And there is also other Sixties Scoopers who suffer from addictions. It is a really crippling thing that happened."

So as much as Semaganis was heartened to hear an apology, she says there must be much more to come.

"In order for us to break the cycle we need access to programs and services that support us. We need reconnections," she said.

"Reconciliation cannot be just a speech read off by the politician of the day. It has to be tangible programs that address the Nations, whether they are in urban centres or reserves or wherever they may be, and that is responsive to the Indigenous community that will make positive change."