Timing and numbers play a big role in Charles Eshleman’s life.
The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizen and survivor of the Sixties Scoop was taken from his birth family when he was seven months old, one of thousands of Indigenous children taken from their families and placed in non-Indigenous homes from the 1950s to 1990s.
He was moved between seven different foster homes.
He first realized he was adopted when he was told so by a “neighbourhood kid” when he was seven years old.
He was moved to Alberta when he was 12 and returned to the Yukon 12 years later. He reconnected with his heritage and his roots, working for his First Nation for 12 years.
Now a soft-spoken martial arts trainer, Eshleman, 56, said he’s looked at all his records, knows all the details of his story. After a beginning where he had no control over what was happening, he’s determined, he said, to follow the path he began carving out for himself in his early teens — first, finding salvation and healing in martial arts, and eventually, coming home.
It’s the need to follow that path, Eshleman told the News Aug. 6, that led him to turn away from the national settlement for Sixties Scoop survivors and launch his own action instead.
“It just seemed so cut-and-dry,” he said of the national settlement-in-principle, in which the Canadian government has set aside up to $750 million to pay out survivors.
“I looked at my records and a lot of people haven’t looked at their records. And that’s the difference … I know.”
Eshleman is one of two plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Attorney General of Canada and the Yukon Commissioner.
The lawsuit was originally styled as a class-action for all Yukon survivors back in 2017 but has since been amended to include only Eshleman and another Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizen, Christine Mullin.
Individual stories, Eshleman later told the News, are easily lost on the national scale, and he’s worked too hard and long to discover his own for that to happen.
“If you came back to your family, let’s say at 24, and look into your mama’s face for the first time and she doesn’t look back at you … you question, ‘What’s wrong with me? Am I … not enough? All this great stuff I’ve done in my life up to this point, what’s it about?’” he said.
“So for me, I started at seven months, seven foster homes.”
Eshleman added that he was recently given a sign that he was on the right path. He was looking for a way to make some quick cash, he said, and went to Gwaandak Theatre, where he had previously done some voice acting.
He was told the artistic director had stepped out, and to come back in 20 minutes. Instead, he returned two days later, met with her, and the next day, received a call about a part.
“I picked up the script and I started reading it … and it’s a script about a First Nation man that’s going through a struggle, and his struggle starts with losing his people a long time ago,” Eshleman said.
“And he’s alone, he struggles through a lot of different things, environments, and he doesn’t really have much acceptability… So the Raven eventually leads him to meet his own people, and he meets his own people and is reunited with them.
“And I looked at the author of the story and it was my grandmother … my mother’s mother was telling this story, and I’m playing the part of this story of a man searching, and it comes as my grandmother saying, ‘Son, you know, I’m gonna get you some money, you’re going to tell my story, and you’re going to get the lead part, and you’re going to keep moving forward, it’s going to help you grow.’”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org