Stripped of identity: Powerful music video depicts lasting impacts of Sixties Scoop
In her powerful new music video, Child of the Government, Jayli Wolf tells the story of her father being taken from his family by the Canadian government in the Sixties Scoop, which saw tens of thousands of Indigenous children forcibly removed from their homes and adopted to mostly non-Indigenous families.
He was stripped of his identity — which impacted her own.
Wolf was raised as a Jehovah's Witness in a small town in British Columbia where she lived in a trailer with her maternal grandmother. Wolf didn't know her father growing up, let alone that he was a First Nations man — or that she too had Indigenous roots.
"I thought I was Mexican when I was little," she said.
But he wasn't present in her life, and her upbringing in a strict religious community meant being obliged to obey rules and not ask too many questions.
"I always felt like God was looking over my shoulder," Wolf told Falen Johnson, host of CBC's Unreserved. "You're taught that you're not good enough, that you were waiting for 'perfection in paradise.' ... It was really stressful."
As a teen she began to see that her complexion wasn't the only thing that differed from those around her. So did her desires.
Wolf wanted the freedom to be an artist, a musician, bisexual, and spiritual on her own terms — all things the religion had labelled "Satan's temptations."
By the time her father reappeared in her life, in her teens, she had begun to extract herself from the religion, first mentally then physically.
Wolf now lives in Toronto as a musician, actor and filmmaker. Her relationship with her dad has improved over recent years. They're both seeking therapy to work through trauma, she said.
And for Wolf, much of her own identity-building has come from finally connecting with her Indigenous family.
"Learning about my culture has gone hand in hand with my healing," she said.
'Magical moments' on Saulteau First Nation
Wolf recently visited her Indigenous family for the first time.
"I belong to the Saulteau First Nation community in Treaty 8 territory in northern British Columbia," she said in a video posted to social media where she's seen hugging relatives tightly. "It was the most amazing experience in my life."
She and her great-grandmother sat down together, and made tea and bannock over the fire.
"I had just such a magical moment when I looked into my great-grandmother's eyes," Wolf said. "She was talking to me about her dreams and how she's seen me in her dreams… It was so beautiful."
Her great-grandmother brought out a book of Cree words to begin to teach Wolf the language, and a cousin took her into the woods to learn how to forage.
Wolf met aunties she describes as amazing, funny and strong matriarchs — a striking contrast to the submissive roles women played in the religious community of her past.
"My culture has kind of grounded me and made me look at the world in such a different perspective," she said. "I see us all as one. I see how we all sit in a circle in this life."
Meeting her Indigenous family has helped her deepen her understanding of who she is, and who she wants to be.
"It shouldn't be a privilege for me to say I'm happy to know where I come from, but it is," she said in a behind-the-scenes video explaining some of her artistic choices for the Child of the Government music video.
"My heart goes out to all those people who are not able to find their way back home yet."