The Current

An Indigenous family's fight to find the truth about Cleo, their sister taken in Sixties Scoop

CBC investigative journalist Connie Walker talks about the year she spent with an Indigenous family trying to find the sister they lost during the Adopt Indian Métis program in the 1970s.
Cleopatra Nicotine Semaganis was a Cree girl who was removed from her family in 1974. They never saw her again.

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Cleopatra Nicotine Semaganis was a young Cree girl from Saskatchewan who was removed from her family and adopted by a white family in 1974.

"Some time after that, her family back in Saskatchewan got word that she had been killed," says CBC investigative reporter Connie Walker.

"They believe that she was murdered while she was trying to hitchhike back home to Saskatchewan."

A 1972 newspaper advertisement offering a young Indigenous girl for adoption. (Regina Leader Post)

Cleo and her siblings — like many Indigenous children — were taken from their community, displayed in newspaper advertisements and sent to live with white adoptive families across North America through a controversial program called Adopt Indian and Métis or A.I.M.

For decades, all Cleo's family knew was that she had died. They couldn't find any more details because her name had been changed in the adoption process.

"They didn't know where she went, or what her name was. Just this terrible story about her tragic death," Walker tells The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.

When her siblings found each other as adults, they set out to find the truth.

CBC News report by Craig Oliver about the Adopt Indian and Métis program in 1968.

4 years ago
Duration 1:44
A CBC News report from May 5, 1968 about the Adopt Indian Métis program, presented by CBC reporter Craig Oliver.

Walker spent a year with them. Her investigation is detailed in the podcast Missing and Murdered: Finding Cleo.

"As soon as you scratch the surface you realize how interconnected all of these issues are," Walker says.

"This is not just a story about a girl who went missing, or who was murdered — this is a story about the impacts of child welfare and how they're echoing in communities across the country." 

"This is a story about the intra-generational effects of residential schools... about the lack of basic infrastructure that Indigenous communities grapple with everyday."

Listen to the full conversation above, where Connie Walker talks with Laura Lynch about the search for Cleo and the A.I.M. program, the families affected by it and the people who ran it.

Learn more about Cleo and her family's story, and listen to full episodes of Missing and Murdered here

This segment was produced by The Current's Elizabeth Hoath.