Native children hold letters that spell "Goodbye" at the former Fort Simpson Indian Residential School in the Northwest Territories in Canada. Photo: J.F. Moran / Library and Archives Canada / PA-102575
Canada | Opinion

Gabrielle Scrimshaw: I was taken from my mother's arms at two weeks old

Gabrielle Scrimshaw shares a story common among indigenous peoples in Canada. She was taken from her mother when she was just two weeks old. Her mother, in turn, had been taken from her parents and forced to attend a residential school:
I was 2 weeks old when I was taken from my mother. After a late night of drinking, she got into a fight, the police were called and, I am told, they found me swaddled and alone on a motel bed in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. She was in her late 20s. It wasn’t until I reached my late 20s that I understood the path that led my mother to that moment.

She isn’t a bad mother or a bad person. She is a good person raised in the toughest of circumstances. An indigenous woman in Northern Canada, my mother was born into a world where she was not meant to succeed.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of Canada. From coast to coast hundreds of celebrations are planned for July 1, Canada’s official birthday. But while many Canadians are celebrating, others are mourning. For the more than 1.4 million in the indigenous community, this milestone is a reminder of our suffering and loss.

More than a century of Indian policy by the Canadian government included forced migration, segregation, limiting education, outlawing culture and separating children from their parents. As recently as the 1970s indigenous people in Canada could lose their Indian status — a legal definition that provided some benefits and protections — just by getting a university education. We were not allowed full voting rights until 1960.

Growing up without a mother to tuck me in at night, I spent 25 years believing she was to blame. Today, at 29, I understand that the situation is much more complicated. I had to learn indigenous history to finally understand her journey. When my mother was a little girl, my grandparents were told to send her to an Indian residential school.

Read More on the Story:
Gabrielle Scrimshaw: Canada’s Hidden History, My Mother and Me (The New York Times 6/30)