WINNIPEG — Child welfare agents took Christine Merasty from her mother’s arms shortly after her birth at a hospital on Christmas Day in 1970.
It was supposed to be a six-month arrangement to allow her mother — a residential school survivor — to get her life together after living on the streets of downtown Winnipeg.
But child-welfare workers were already showing the infant’s picture to prospective white families for adoption. Christine was taken to her new home in the rural Manitoba town of Bowsman when she was four months old.
“They didn’t give my family a chance. They just wanted to remove an Indian child into a white home,” Merasty says. “That wasn’t right. I had a family searching for me for 20 years, wanting me. They would have wanted me in 1970.”
It was called the Adopt Indian Metis program. Today it’s referred to as the ’60s Scoop.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, thousands of aboriginal children were taken from their homes by child-welfare services and placed with non-aboriginal families.
Many view the program in the same light as residential schools. Adoptees have been calling for a formal apology similar to the one given to school survivors.
On Thursday, Manitoba is to become the first province to apologize to Merasty and hundreds of others for the loss of their family, culture and heritage.
For many, including Merasty, it comes too late. It won’t give her back a childhood immersed in her culture or teach her the language of her grandparents.
“I’m angry. How can you not be angry?” she says. “Who gave them the right to make a decision on my life and for my family?”
It took 23 years for Merasty to find her roots.
She grew up thinking she was French, but never knowing where her dark eyes, hair and high cheekbones came from. She endured racist taunts from classmates because she looked aboriginal.
While searching for post-secondary funding, Merasty found out she was from Lac Brochet, a reserve in northern Manitoba. When she called the band office, she ended up talking to the chief — her uncle.
By then, her mother, Claire, had been dead for 20 years. She had become one of Canada’s almost 1,200 missing or murdered aboriginal women, her body found on a highway on the outskirts of Winnipeg. No one has ever been charged in her death.
Merasty couldn’t ask her any of the questions she had pondered for years. But she found grandparents and a community that had never given up searching for her. When she visited her home reserve for the first time, hundreds lined up at the airstrip to greet her.
She couldn’t communicate with her Dene grandmother except through a translator, but the connection with her family was instantaneous.
“The connection I felt was the love. It’s so unconditional. I’m raised white but that love is indescribable.”
Merasty had eight years to get to know her grandfather before he died in 2001. Her grandmother died in 2011. Merasty lost out on a lifetime with them, but still considers herself fortunate.
“I’m just one lucky person that found a family that completely loves me.”