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Survivor of the 'Sixties Scoop' speaks out

When David Moroz went to public school in British Columbia he felt trapped between two different, often hostile, worlds. “The natives would be in the alleyway and the white people up in the parking lot...

When David Moroz went to public school in British Columbia he felt trapped between two different, often hostile, worlds.

“The natives would be in the alleyway and the white people up in the parking lot, and they would just be shouting obscenities back and forth. And here I was walking right in the middle of it, because I lived with non-native parents and I was a native,” he remembers.

“It was the hardest place to be.”

Now in his 40s, Moroz is speaking publicly about his experiences in Canada’s child welfare system. It’s a system he says ripped him away from his mother and his culture and left him vulnerable.

He wants his birth mother to know he doesn’t blame her. And he wants the world to know about Patrick, his twin brother and protector, who was found hanging in his room just before their 16th birthday.

About a year after this wrenching loss, Moroz was reunited with his Yukon birth family for the first time. There, he learned about an identity that he didn’t know he had.

* * *

Moroz and his mom have the same eyes.

Now in her 80s, Effie Campbell tells her stories in broken English, spending most of the time staring down at her hands.

She doesn’t know how to read, her son says.

In 1968, the year after they were born, she says she signed the legal papers that allowed the government to take away her twin boys.

But Campbell insists she never would have signed them if she’d known what they said.

She thought the paperwork had to do with her older sons’ schooling, she says.

“I made a mistake.”

Officials at the time claimed she had a drinking problem that led to neglect.

One day, they came and took the babies.

“I thought, oh boy, I miss the babies.”

Campbell says she quit drinking in 1972.

But until her son came home years later, she didn’t know what had happened to her youngest children. She says she prayed for them all the time.

“Nobody told me nothing, until he came back.”

As many as 20,000 First Nation and Metis children were taken away from their families from the 1960s to the 1980s and adopted into non-native families.

It became known as the Sixties Scoop.

“In the ‘60s it was still very much a time when government policy was geared towards assimilation of First Nations people. So this was just another sign of the times in Canada,” says William Lindsay, the director of Simon Fraser University’s office for aboriginal peoples.

“It was very much a residential school-like experience for a lot of the kids. I won’t go so far as to say all of them.”

* * *

Moroz has one picture of him and his brother together in the Yukon. The two of them are sitting on a hay bale sometime before their third birthday.

It was taken when the brothers were living in a house in the Yukon, somewhere on the Mayo Road, he says.

That was one of the many houses the brothers bounced between growing up, first in the Yukon, and, by the time they were three, in British Columbia.

Patrick died a few months before their 16th birthday. He was found hanging off the curtain rod in his bedroom.

The authorities say the death was accidental.

“The relationship that you have with your brother, a lot of people don’t understand that. The closeness of it,” said Moroz.

“That’s what really devastated me when he passed on. It’s like losing a limb and you can never replace it.”

Moroz came back to the Yukon for the first time about a year after his brother died.

At that point his world was unraveling.

Social worker notes from that time say officials recommended he spend the summer in the Yukon.

“The trip to the Yukon may prove to be an enriching and eye-opening experience for David. He may feel again that he belongs and he is not left out in the cold, without his twin brother, and with an adoptive family that may never truly accept him,” the notes say.

“Certainly it is important for any individual to feel that he has roots.”

It was an emotional reunion for Effie.

“He was shy. I hugged him. So glad to see him,” she says.

He was instantly immersed in a culture he had never experienced before.

“When I came back, my mom took me right out into the bush. Gone, right out into the bush. She went and taught me everything that I know today about the bush and how to survive. The way she got taught when she was young.”

After that summer he was forced to go back to B.C. but returned to the North months later. He’s been here ever since.

The transition hasn’t been an easy one. While he may be a member of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, he initially had no relationship with the culture.

“I’d never ever lived with native people before. I was actually scared of them. I was so scared of them that I stayed in the house for one year,” he says.

“I didn’t go outside and I didn’t communicate with anybody because I was so scared of natives. I just had to get used to them.”

* * *

Multiple class-action lawsuits by aboriginal children taken away from their birth families during the Sixties Scoop are in the works around the country.

A case in Ontario was given the go-ahead to go to court last year. The government is appealing that decision.

Two similar lawsuits are also being worked on, one in British Columbia and a second for people from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba.

While not everyone’s story is negative, the lawsuits show the loss of culture was felt deeply, Lindsay said.

“The stories have started to come out about kids who felt ripped away from their families. Without an aboriginal family or environment around them they ended up losing their cultural identity or never gaining one. They lost contact with their families,” he says.

“They were, for decades, barred access from medical histories and adoption histories.”

Moroz says he reached out to a lawyer a few years ago looking to sue over being taken away. He says he was told that if he wanted to file a lawsuit himself it needed to be within two years of his claims.

He says that’s not reasonable.

He describes himself as being like a baby when he arrived in the Yukon, not capable of making those kind of decisions.

“When I was 19 I had two years to be able to do that and I didn’t know. I didn’t know nothing about it. They got me. They got me in a loophole there.”

He hopes his story will allow more people to come forward.

But mostly he says he wants his mother to know that he doesn’t blame her for what happened.

“My mom blames herself and I don’t want her to blame herself no more.”

Last month he threw Patrick’s ashes into the Yukon River by the cabin he has near MacRae.

By talking about what happened, he hopes his brother can finally rest in peace.

* * *

After years of living so far apart, Moroz now has an apartment around the corner from his mother. One of his brothers lives across the hall.

“It was through the grace of the village and the grace of my family that I have turned out the way that I have, because of their patience and their guidance. Especially my mom.”

He’s currently on social assistance but says he works whenever he can as a handyman or carpenter’s assistant.

“This red car outside here,” he says, looking out the window. “I’m fixing it right now. I just unhooked the whole engine on it.”

He admits he has anger issues, likely a result of his childhood experiences. It’s gotten him in trouble with the police in the past, but he says he’s working on it,

“Just in the last few years I’ve been able to put a cork on it.”

He has a biological daughter who was adopted by two First Nation lawyers. “I never contested it. Because I could never give her the life that two lawyers can give her,” he said.

“Some day I’ll meet her, and she’ll come back and visit her real dad. I’m so happy that she’s had a better life than I can give her.”

Moroz stopped going to school in Grade 11. He’s tried a college prep class, but suspects that he’ll probably never graduate.

Working with his hands is something he has taught himself over the years, starting in the backyard of his adopted home.

“I went to the University of Hard Knocks, and I figured that was good enough.”

Instead he goes out on the land, fishing and hunting with the family. It’s the same thing he’s been doing since he discovered they were here.

“It’s really soothing on the old brain. It’s what I needed, I tell you. It’s what I craved for, my brother and I craved for, all of our life.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at