"Every day I wake up excited because I’ve already been through the worst parts of my life. Everything I do is for my children, my grandchildren and my grandchildren's grandchildren. I feel that if I didn't do something about what's happening to Indigenous people in Canada, if I didn’t share my story, there would be nobody left in my family to fix it, to make it better. And it's not just me that's fixing it. I'm trying to build a community with non-Indigenous people and Indigenous people so we can continue this work together. That's the most important thing to me."
Meet Colleen Cardinal, Canada
Colleen is a grassroots organizer, filmmaker, and Indigenous rights activist from Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. Colleen’s childhood experience as an adoptee, and of having lost a sister and sister-in-law to violence, inspires her work with Families of Sisters in Spirit – an organization and network providing support, healing and solidarity to the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
Colleen was just a baby when Canadian government authorities took her and her older sisters from their Alberta home and placed them in an adoptive home in Ontario. Colleen and her sisters were victims of the 60’s Scoop, a policy that resulted in upwards of 20,000 Indigenous children being forcibly taken from their homes and placed for adoption with non-indigenous families. This policy started in the 1960s and continued into the 1980s. The psychological impact of Indigenous-to-white-family adoptions loom large in Canadian Indigenous culture, along with the legacy of placing Indigenous children in residential schools and other colonial policies.
Like many children of the Scoop, Colleen and her sisters grew up without knowing their Indigenous history. Colleen did not learn that she was of Cree heritage until she was in her late teens. She and her two sisters also suffered physical, emotional and sexual violence at the hands of their adoptive father. After both of her sisters fled their adoptive home, Colleen went to the police and her father was charged. Not long afterwards, one of Colleen’s sisters was robbed and murdered by someone she knew. The negative media response to her sister’s death is something that continues to influence Colleen’s life today.
The perpetuation of harmful stereotypes, racism and misogyny against Indigenous peoples in the media, even today, has meant a devaluation of Indigenous women, culture and history. In 2012, Colleen applied for a small grant to begin working on a documentary, The 60's Scoop: A Hidden Generation,about her story and how her past has affected her four children. The film, which is not yet done, has evolved into the story of not only Colleen’s family—but is also the story of the hundreds of other adoptees that Colleen has met from across Canada and overseas.
Colleen’s mission is to educate the Canadian public about the importance of honoring the land and lives of Indigenous peoples—and providing spaces of healing and connection for Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
Watch the trailer for The 60's Scoop: A Hidden Generation
Check out the network of Indigenous adoptees Colleen has brought together in Ottawa, Canada
Learn more about The 60's Scoop and the impact on Indigenous children
Learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada