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Grassroots News
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Sixties Scoop Survivor Shares Her Story
Posted: October 18, 2017

'I would look at people and wonder, is that my relative? Is that my cousin? I wonder if I have a connection'.

Leah Ballantyne spent years not knowing where she came from or who she belonged to.

A survivor of the Sixties Scoop, the lawyer feels fortunate to have been adopted as a baby in 1975 by Scottish immigrants Gerry and Anne White, who she described as wonderful people who have always treated her as one of their own.

But as Ballantyne grew up in Transcona and St. Boniface, she couldn't help but feel a disconnect to her natural-born culture.

"I went to St. Mary's Academy, so every day I had to take a bus and take a transfer in downtown Winnipeg. It always amazed me that I could look at native people downtown and not connect," she told CBC's Weekend Morning Show on Saturday.

"I would look at people and wonder, is that my relative? Is that my cousin? I wonder if I have a connection to them."

Pukatawagan

By the time she was 13, Ballantyne and her adoptive parents began asking the federal government for details about her past. However, as required by law, government officials refused answering her questions until she became an adult.

Shortly after hitting her 18th birthday, she received a letter from the government, informing her she originally came from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Pukatawagan. If she wanted to actually be a member of the band, she was told she'd have to contact them herself.

"I got a call back from the chief at the time, the late Pascal Bighetty," Ballantyne said. "He phoned me back and he said send me a picture of yourself and your non-identifying information. I'll know where you come from.

"So I did that and several weeks later he phones me again and he says, 'I know who you are, and you need to come home.' I laughed, because the concept of home didn't really strike me, but I'm like OK, I'll finish my semester at school and I will come to Pukatawagan."

She returned to Winnipeg, then took a train to The Pas. As she waited to depart for another train to Pukatawagan, she realized she was in a room full of Cree people for the first time in her life.

Ballantyne said she eventually told people in the room that she was going to meet her family in Pukatawagan.

"And they say, 'well, who's your family? Who are you?' And I say I don't know," she said, chuckling slightly.

Best moments

Shortly after arriving at Pukatawagan, Ballantyne said she went to Bighetty's office. She said the meeting ended up being one of the best moments of her life.

"His back was towards me and he said, 'you know, I read your information and I think I know what family you are,'" she said.

"And then he turned around and looked at me and stood up and started calling me Jane and started crying. I hugged him back and said, 'my name's not Jane.'

"And he said 'no, but your mother was. And she was my best friend growing up. And I know who you are and welcome home.'"

Ballantyne said she was told Jane Ballantyne and Peter Sinclair were her parents. Her mom had already died, meaning some of the circumstances surrounding the immediate aftermath of her birth remain shrouded in mystery.

She was told her mother had opted to put her up for adoption because her older brother had already been put into the care of CFS, but Ballantyne said it's possible her mother had been coerced.

As for her dad, Peter Sinclair, the two built a relationship and she lived with him for a time on the reserve. He died in 2006.

Today, Ballantyne is a lawyer who works as chief of staff to Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day. She realizes how fortunate she's been, considering the terrible tales told by other Sixties Scoop survivors.

She said the Canadian government's $800-million settlement with those survivors, announced Friday, is an encouraging sign towards reconciliation.

"But I'm still looking forward to this particular government to enabling some jurisdiction and other legislation towards having our rightful place," she said.

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