Suzanne Wilkinson’s life started with a lie.
Her Cree mother believed she was stillborn. Her adoptive parents believed she was willingly surrendered by a 19-year-old who felt unprepared.
It took 31 years for Wilkinson to learn the truth and reconnect with her Indigenous family in Edmonton. She discovered her mother was a member of the Papaschase band, which is unrecognized by the government as a First Nation, and that her father was Métis. She also found out she had five biological sisters and a large extended family.
“I always felt there was something off about my birth story,” she said Thursday, noting she lives in Victoria, B.C., near her adoptive parents, whom she said were horrified by the revelation. “It was deeply traumatizing; it confirmed something I felt inside
Wilkinson, 46, was one of thousands of Indigenous children torn away from their communities and placed in foster care or put up for adoption during the Sixties Scoop.
“Not being connected to my biological family was hell all my life,” she said.
Thursday’s session marked the sixth and final meeting across Alberta aimed at informing a government apology. More than 500 people attended events in Edmonton, Calgary, Peace River, St. Paul, Fort McMurray and Lethbridge.
Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan — who attended the all-day session along with Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee — said there isn’t a deadline for when Premier Rachel Notley will make a public apology.
“It has to have meaning, or there’s no point in doing it,” Feehan said, adding his role Thursday at the Amiskwaciy Academy was to listen to survivors. “It’s the grief of loss that is really paramount here — it’s the loss of family, the loss of community, the loss of language, it’s the loss of a sense of self and a sense of pride.”
Part of the apology will demand action, said Adam North Peigan, president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta. He wants to see long-term funding from provincial and federal governments for healing programs, as well as a memorial.