Blog: What does Truth and Reconciliation mean to me?

Blog posted by Kathleen Cooper, Senior Researcher (pictured right, with her sister, ~1968)

Many things, but most vividly, it brings to mind a memory of the sixties scoop. At the time, aged 9 or 10, I had no idea what the 60s scoop was and I don’t think it had that name at the time. I had no idea of its extent, or any of the residential schools context and history around it.

I remember it because I recall a completely mute and obviously miserable and very scared little girl. She was about my age. I was visiting a friend’s house and there she was, all of a sudden. They said she was an “Indian” implying with tone and perhaps words, I don’t recall, that this was a pitiable state and that she was going to live with them. Even from that first surprising encounter, I did not have the impression it was a permanent arrangement.

I also recall it being vaguely clear to me that their mother “obtained” (that’s the only word that seems correct) this girl as a playmate for her daughters. My friend and her younger sisters treated her like a pet; there’s no other word for it, and a non-responsive, and thus disappointing pet at that. I recall thinking it was all so incredibly odd.

With the eyes and impressions of a child, and from a deeply dysfunctional family of my own, I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t question it although I recall wondering, why doesn’t she say anything? I don’t remember her name. Did I wonder where had she come from? Or where her family was? Probably not. It was all too strange. Then a few weeks later, she was gone. I was told that “it didn’t work out” and they “sent her back.” I don’t recall wondering where “back” was.

I don’t believe she was abused in that house, at least not in the overt physical sense, though of course abuse and neglect take many forms. Nothing about the whole thing sat right with me at the time and many years later, I learned about the sixties scoop. I remembered her immediately.

In more recent years, as even more details about the sixties scoop have been revealed in statistics and survivors’ stories, I have often wondered about her. Where did she come from? Where did she go? I sincerely hope nothing even worse happened to her before or after those few weeks in that house in Toronto. When I think of Truth and Reconciliation, I always think of her and the memory brings feelings of deep sadness, anger, and shame. I know from this direct experience, and from many others of my own childhood, that Truth and Reconciliation demands of me, and I think everyone in Canada, empathy for deep suffering that is a lifelong struggle.

I wish I could remember her name. I sincerely hope she found her way back to her family, her community, and to safety and some peace.