When the Government of Alberta opened adoption records for adults in 2014, Patricia Meraw applied for her birth records and learned her biological parent’s surname.
Meraw, also known as Trish, was nearly 40 years old when she found out that her maternal grandmother was Cree and her paternal grandfather was Iroquois.
Her reality is one of the devastating consequences of at least 34,767 claims from Indigenous children who were apprehended by child welfare services for colonisation between 1951 and 1991 without the permission of their families or their bands.
“For the Sixties Scoop, with me, I’m not one of those typical stories where I was taken from the reserve,” Meraw explained, while taking a sip of a chocolate milkshake at Huckleberries Family Restaurant in Athalmere last week. “My Mom was married to a (non-Indigenous man) and she developed blood clots in her legs so she couldn’t walk. She was hospitalized while she was pregnant and the social worker told her, ‘no problem, we’ll put her in foster care until you’re better.’”
Four months later, Meraw’s mother was medically cleared to leave the hospital and began looking for her newborn daughter in Edmonton, Alta. when she was informed that her daughter had been legally adopted.
“My parents looked up the social worker’s home address in the phone book and went there that night,” Meraw explained. “They asked her, ‘where’s my baby girl?’ and the social worker began crying and apologizing, explaining that’s what they had been told to do and she didn’t know where I went.”
After the devastating news and lack of information about their daughter, Meraw’s biological parents relocated to a family farm on a franchised reservation. Two of three of Meraw’s biological brother’s perished during a game of hide and seek when they hid and suffocated to death in a latched refrigerator.
“It became an alcoholic and a violent relationship,” Meraw noted, stating their birth mother was hospitalized to cope with the trauma of losing three children. “So, they broke up.”
In reality, Meraw spent 10 months living in foster care before an adoption took place with an Irish Catholic family residing in Drayton Valley, Alta. with seven of their own biological children.
Meraw’s adoptive mother was a registered nurse who noticed the back of her head was flat from laying down in a crib too often and found a section of hair shaved off her scalp with some scarring that occurred due to unknown causes.
She was malnourished and had a stomach that stuck out from hunger as a side effect.
“And I had a problem with swallowing food that I was eating,” she explained. “I was a very slow eater and I had a constant fear of choking. At times, it was hard being in such a big family. It was hard on my Mom to handle that many kids and I would say it was very mentally challenging for her. My Dad worked very hard in an oil company and we were raised quite well.”
Meraw always suspected that she didn’t quite belong with her adoptive family, but wasn’t told about the adoption process until the age of 13.
“We were out in the garden one day and my Mom asked, ‘Do you know what adoption is?’ so I said, ‘yes’ and she said, ‘well, you’re adopted’,” Meraw said with a look of devastation. “I was quite hurt to know. I loved my Dad so much so to know he was not my blood hurt a lot. For my Mom, I understood why she acted the way she did. I wasn’t hers.”
At the age of 16, Meraw ran away from home and went to live with relatives of her then boyfriend. At 18, the couple got married.
“My first marriage was very violent. My husband was very violent,” she said, noting that maternal instincts to build up relationships with her sons took work. “Being raised off the reserve gave me a step up in life. I didn’t ever become highly educated but it gave me a different perspective on life.”
As an adult, Meraw moved forward and has had two positive relationships with better outcomes. She is currently a foster parent in the Columbia Valley with her common law partner, Michael Archie.
She is thankful for the compensation from the Sixties Scoop Settlement, but remains hopeful that support for mental health will be available to survivors soon.
“My kids saw me go through a lot of my bad days. Where’s their healing,” she asked. “It’s not just about compensation or support. It’s about giving us a hand up in life. I shouldn’t feel ashamed of who I am and where I come from… for us, there’s a piece of the puzzle that’s always missing in you.”
However, losing the culture and the language of her traditional ancestors had a devastating impact.
“Dealing with depression is a huge fight for me every day,” said Meraw, adding that it took three years to successfully apply for and receive a status card in light of amended second generation requirements about coming from a franchised reservation.
In her mid-30s, Meraw called an operator in Saskatchewan to collect phone numbers for residents who shared her birth parent’s surname.
After two unsuccessful phone calls with a promise that a stranger would call her back, Meraw was disillusioned and assumed that she would never know the truth about her birth family.
“She called me back in 10 minutes and said, ‘oh my God, oh my God, you’re my Sister. Oh my God.”
Meraw’s biological sister provided their birth mother’s contact information by phone.
“The phone rang for a long time,” said Meraw. “When my Mom answered the phone, she started crying and saying she was so sorry for losing me. She said she had been praying this would happen.”
At that time, Meraw knew nothing about her origins. The duo agreed to stay in contact and within a week of talking by phone, her biological mother came to visit her in B.C. from Sask. with pictures of her siblings.
“It was a little shocking to see her,” she explained. “She was going through a bad bout of MS.”
A few months later, Meraw visited her adoptive family in Sorrento, B.C. and told them about searching for and finding her biological family. She was disappointed when her adoptive parents and siblings fell silent at the news.
“I think they were in shock,” Meraw said. “They have never spoken about it again.”
While finding her biological parents was a monumental discovery, Meraw kept her distance and was willing to listen to family stories.
“I tried staying in contact with my birth Mom but it was difficult,” she said. “She missed all those years and was dealing with an illness, so we became more like acquaintances.”
Meraw’s children met their maternal grandmother in Sask. once as children.
“To take back what the government did, it was very traumatizing, especially to my parents,” she said. “How do you do that to a family?”
Meraw recently applied to the national Sixties Scoop Settlement and her claim has been accepted. However, she was disheartened to see that many other settlements were rejected in light of the sexual and physical abuse that many Indigenous children faced.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” she concluded. “I did not fall into the drugs and alcohol like so many others have, but I deal with my mental illness, and see how flawed the system is. They’re still taking the kids.”