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A new organization is aiming to study the genetic effects of the ’60s Scoop on the lives of Indigenous peoples and their children.
Representatives from the group ’60s Scoop Legacy of Canada offered an information session at the Brandon Friendship Centre on College Avenue on Thursday, during which they explained the history of the ’60s Scoop and what their study hopes to uncover during the coming years.
The organization has partnered with Dr. Amy Bombay from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Dr. Robyn McQuaid from the University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research and Dr. Cindy Blackstock from the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society to examine the epigenetic effects, or how the environment may alter gene expression, of the ’60s Scoop and residential schools.
"For us, it’s really important," said Katherine Legrange, a Métis woman and one of the co-founders of ’60s Scoop Legacy of Canada.
Legrange grew up in an adopted family from Winnipeg and to this day does not know where her home community is.
She said she often ran away from home as a teenager and had her first child when she was 17.
Despite having a nice upbringing, Legrange said that she believes her actions were due to her need for attachment, not only to her true family but to her true identity.
Legrange moved to British Columbia five years ago and said the drive to start the ’60s Scoop organization came in part because the government wasn’t doing enough to help survivors.
"For us, I mean it feels like we’ve kind of been let down by our government, so that’s where this kind of work really becomes important for us; survivor-driven for survivors," she said.
The ’60s Scoop is the term used to describe the period between the 1960s and 1980s, when Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in non-Indigenous homes.
Estimates suggest more than 20,000 people were affected nationwide.
The push to start the organization also came after Legrange and fellow co-founder Jeannie Whitebird (Red Eagle) discovered they each had a child with autism.
They wondered if the ’60s Scoop played some genetic role in their children’s conditions and decided to see if they could trace any physical or mental health effects from survivors to that period of time.
Whitebird, who was taken from her home in Rolling River First Nation and adopted by a family in Pennsylvania, said the hope is the data can be used as evidence to show the harms of the ’60s Scoop.
"I carried that trauma and nobody did anything to help me through it, and to this day I still, to a certain degree, through my own healing journey, I’ve had to address those issues. But I had to do it on my own," she said.
Whitebird came back to Canada in 1998 after reconnecting with her biological brother and sister.
The study has yet to start, but the group plans to initiate it in Manitoba.
Legrange said they are also working with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation on gathering survivors’ stories, all of which will play into the overall study.
It was also clarified that the work was not part of the $875-million settlement approved by a federal judge in May for First Nations people affected by the ’60s Scoop.
Among the few dozen people in attendance on Thursday was Jason Gobeil, Aboriginal community co-ordinator for the Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council.
Gobeil is part of a committee established last year to help people affected by the ’60s Scoop and said the work being done by Legrange and Whitebird was a great opportunity to open the door for further discussions on the child welfare system.
However, he said the work was still in its early stages and that the co-founders should expect "a lot of questions that are going to be asked by communities."
His advice was for them to tread lightly and not reopen wounds without a plan to help those survivors.
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