The Sixties Scoop, the primal wound and home

I can navigate this cabin darkness by feel. It’s like a second skin to me now and I move through it casually, stepping around the islands of…

I can navigate this cabin darkness by feel.

It’s like a second skin to me now and I move through it casually, stepping around the islands of clutter we’ve created, the peninsular poke of our busyness, the archipelago of our living.

In the moonlight by the window I can hear coyotes in the distance and the thrill of that ancient call reminds me of how easily this land seeps inside you when you let it.

A part of that yip and yowl lives within me, within the Indian heart of me and it makes the moonlight a ceremony.

Sitting here listening to the sounds of the land in the darkness and the creaks and shifts of this cabin home, I feel a part of all of it. A part of that creak and shift lives within me, within the human heart of me.

It hasn’t always been that way. It’s taken years, in fact, to become this casual with things, to feel this ease in the sense of time and place.

When I was small, a toddler, I was taken away from the family that brought me into being. Life had changed for them, drastically and fast.

Residential schools had broken the thong of family and culture that bound them and they couldn’t take care of me, protect me, or nurture me the way a child should be cared for. The schools had erased that ability.

After a pair of foster homes, I became one of thousands of native kids who were literally scooped up out of their lives and placed in adoptive homes hundreds of kilometres away.

It was called The Sixties Scoop and there is a generation of us who were displaced and excised from who we were created to be.

We ceased to be Wagamese, Little Chief, or Red Sky. Instead, we became Smith and Jones and Gilkinson.

None of us had any idea how to be this new person.

Some of us were lucky and landed in homes that allowed us to explore our Indian selves. But most of us became square pegs forced into round holes, the essential parts shaved off to make us fit.

I could never became a Gilkinson even though that’s what my legal name became. I couldn’t.

I was nine and had already suffered nine years of dislocation, displacement and disempowerment.

I had spent nine years of not belonging in the places they gave me to call home.

I’d experienced nine years of carrying a loneliness, a yearning, I couldn’t define, place or make sense of.

My life as a Gilkinson was marked by countless vain attempts to make me one of them and it was painful, frightening and lonely.

No one understood back then the trauma that happens with separation.

When you’re suddenly plucked from a way of being, whether it’s from family, culture or community, it tears you, rips you and there’s no mending of that rift, no healing. Instead, you carry the effects of that wounding with you always.

It’s called The Primal Wound and it happens to apprehended kids all the time.

For me it meant I could never attach myself to things or people. I always expected to be removed, rejected, taken away without explanation and it cost me friendship, love and memories.

Being incapable of bonding cost me a normal life with a circle of friends and associates and family. Being torn away meant that alone was far safer, predictable and familiar than being a part of something bigger.

I never felt rooted to anything. Leaving was always easier than staying put because attachment meant I was putting myself at risk of separation again and that primal wound still ached within me and I always left before I could re-feel that pain.

There were a lot of empty highways and a lot of displaced dreams in my life because of that initial wounding.

When I found my people again it got better. Every ceremony, every ritual, every phrase I learned in my language eased that wound and eventually it became easier, more graceful, to walk as an Indian person.

I began to reclaim the history, culture, language, philosophy and way of being that the Sixties Scoop had deprived me of.

When I came back to my people, I found loving, nurturing elders and traditional people to guide me.

They looked beyond the way the city stuck to me, my oddness, my inability to speak my language, my lack of a sense of myself as an Indian person, and began to teach me.

They offered back the shaved-off bits. They scooped me up and carried me home.

Yes, I was lucky. It helps to have strong cultural teachers to help you when you stumble back lost and confused. It helps to have a community rooted in itself and proud.

It helps to have a people, healed themselves, to ease you back to being who you were created to be.

But what helps the most is love. See, it’s being ripped from love that causes the wound in the first place and it’s only love in the end that heals it.

There’s a woman in my life that loves me completely. She knows the people I’ve been and the person I strive to be today.

She loves me and encourages me and understands the nature of the wound because it happened to her too.

When I sit and look out at the primal darkness from our cabin in the mountains, I think about that.

She’s not a native woman. But she doesn’t need to be. Because in the end it’s just the universal act of loving that transcends the wounds of life.

Only the sure, kind hand of understanding that removes the barriers that block you from yourself.

I know that now and I don’t run from it. Home is not an Indian place, it’s a place within that you can navigate by feel, return to always and find welcome.

 Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He recently won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

City council meeting in Whitehorse on Feb. 8. At Whitehorse city council’s March 1 meeting, members were presented with a bylaw that would repeal 10 bylaws deemed to be redundant or out of date. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Out with the old

Council considers repealing outdated bylaws

A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon will have “delayed spring” after heavy winter snowfall

After record levels of precipitation, cold spring will delay melt

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted online. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

Most Read