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Monday, March 23, 2015

First Nations Adoptee launches own search for roots

Sheila Pelletier in her home in Regina on Friday. She is an adoptee who was part of what is now known as the 60s Scoop. (TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post)

By Kerry Benjoe, Leader-Post March 23, 2015

After years of rejection, a self-professed loner’s life changed after a single phone call.

Two weeks ago, Sheila Pelletier composed the most important Facebook post of her life:
“My (birth) name is Sheila Jean Marie Halkett ... I was born in 1982 in Prince Albert. I am from Montreal Lake First Nation ... Possible birth date of mother was April 21, 1948. Please share if you might have any information. Please call me ... Sheila. Thank you.”

It was a bold move but after three decades she was ready to find out the truth about her First Nation family.

“I didn’t think I would get a response so fast,” said Pelletier, who is still in shock.

She had been told by government agencies it would take about three years to get any information about her birth family.

Hours after her post, her phone rang and a man asked for her by name.

“I said, ‘This is Sheila,’ ” she said. “He said, ‘I am Howard Halkett. I’m your uncle. We’ve been looking for you.’ ”

Pelletier says she is part of what has become known as the 60s Scoop.

“In Saskatchewan, we had the Adopt an Indian or Metis program that was started in the late 1960s,” said Tara Turner, assistant professor for the School of Indigenous Social Work at the First Nations University of Canada.

As part of the program, aboriginal children were taken from their birth families and adopted out to non-aboriginal families.

“It was just a re-imagining of the residential school system,” said Turner.
She said isolating aboriginal children from their culture is not healthy because it impacts their ability to understand themselves.

“It’s really difficult for people to navigate identity when it’s been removed from them,” said Turner. “Then finding your way later in life, reconnecting with family or community. That’s not necessarily straight-forward or easy for people.”
Pelletier, who was raised on a farm in Theodore, initially had no idea her Ukrainian father and British mother were not her biological parents — until she started school.

Pelletier’s earliest memories are not pleasant.

“I was called, ‘Squaw and dirty indian,’ ” she said. “I didn’t know what those words meant.”

Pelletier told her parents and it was then she was told about her adoption.

Being the only aboriginal person in the area was far from easy and although her parents did try to defend her — often that only made things worse.

“Even if I had a bad day, I would say I had a good day.” said Pelletier.

After elementary school, she attended high school in Yorkton and although there were other aboriginal students in Yorkton, they rejected her because they thought she was “too-white.”

It was a lonely life.

“I learned to keep to myself,” said Pelletier. “I am still like that. I don’t like people.

She has begun to rethink that attitude.

To hear there were people looking for her and wanting to meet her has been overwhelming.

“I just want to go there and meet them and give them a hug,” said Pelletier.

Prior to speaking with her uncle, all she knew about her birth family was from her adoption records.

When Pelletier turned 18, her mother gave her the papers.

“I’m surprised I never lost them,” she said.

For the past 14 years, she has read and reread the information, but they never provided her any answers.
Pelletier has discovered that she is the youngest of nine — four brothers and four sisters.
However, it is not all happy news.

Her mother Hilda Bird passed away in 2006.

“I didn’t know how to feel about that, you know?” said Pelleter before the emotion took over. “I didn’t know her.”

She has also lost one sister and one brother.

Pelletier does not want to waste any more time and plans to make a family trip this summer, which includes a visit to her mother’s gravesite.

Although she has a good relationship with her adopted parents, she feels relieved to finally connect with her First Nation family.

Pelletier said it was also a relief to finally tell her own children about her past and is looking forward to sharing a new future with them, one with even more family.

She also hopes her story will encourage other adoptees to reach out and find their family before it’s too late. 

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