I was adopted and grew up in a settler-farming town of 1,000 people in Alberta named Castor. It was strange to know that I was Metis, and I had a younger adopted sister that was treaty and never once did we attend an Indigenous cultural event or celebration in our childhood.
Back in the ’80s when I grew up, there wasn’t the effort or emphasis on keeping Indigenous children in their culture.
I believe every effort should be made to place Indigenous children with their blood family so that they can remain connected to their culture; however, if Indigenous children are placed in a loving environment with non-Indigenous parents, the best gift those parents can give their child is to attend Indigenous cultural events and celebrations.
I understand the yearning to know where you come from, and the void that comes from being without culture. When I had school projects that forced me to borrow my parent’s culture and ancestors, it never sat well with me. Borrowed ancestors are like borrowed clothes – ill fitting and never really meant for you.
As much as adopted parent’s love their child and try to give them their family history, our bodies always know it’s a false sense of identity. It’s an intuition that our blood is not their blood – that our genetic code has a spirit and sends out signals to our ancestors like a homing beacon.
What those Mennonite parents gave their Indigenous son was a sense of self that they will never understand and the ability to communicate with his ancestors through his culture. While nature vs. nurture is a great debate for many people, I know the truth in my heart how it has affected me. The part of me that was missing from childhood – knowing my family, its history, and our culture – filled a void in my spirit. My adopted parents could never nurture that sense of identity into me.
I was given the blessing of finding both of my birth parents later in life, my dad at 26 and my mom at 29. I was able to reconcile who I was nurtured to be with my inherent nature. I am definitely more like my dad than my mom, and I love that I have a family history with rich Metis culture and characters.
My message for non-Indigenous parents raising Indigenous children is to make every effort to allow them to connect to their culture. It will insulate them from that void of not knowing their true selves. I believe culture – especially music, dance, art, and celebrations – speaks to their deep inner knowing. They can find a part of themselves in culture without ever having met their birth family.
What brings me the greatest joy after discovering my family heritage is to share Metis culture with my girls. They love attending National Indigenous Peoples Day in Yellowknife, June 21, and they arrive at the celebration wearing their Metis sash with pride – ready to jig and eat a pile of bannock.
Furthermore, because I know who I am, they never have to doubt who they are.