Though she wouldn’t know what it really meant until she was a legal adult, Neecha Dupuis’ childhood was marked by a desire to go home.
“When you were taken in the Sixties Scoop, it wasn’t just a child who was taken, it’s a whole community,” Dupuis told the Nation. “It’s something in your life that you’ll never get back.”
She was one of the estimated 20,000 Indigenous children taken from their families starting in the late 1950s and placed in white households. Ontario’s Child Aid Society (CAS) apprehended Dupuis in 1975 at the age of two. She lived in foster care for two years before being adopted by a French-speaking family.
Dupuis was treated well by her adoptive family but struggled with trauma brought on from being part of the Sixties Scoop throughout her adolescence.
“All I wanted my whole life was just to go back home, but I didn’t even know what that meant,” remembered Dupuis. “I was suicidal in my teen years because I thought if I was successful they would take me back.”
Dupuis said she was institutionalized during her early teens. After returning home she began running away, meeting other people like her on the streets of Ottawa and Toronto.
“I made a new home, that was my street family,” she said. “That’s where I found other Native people.”
Eventually, Dupuis went looking for her biological parents.
“My adoptive parents were very open with me, they showed me the adoption papers,” recalled Dupuis. “The names of my parents were blacked out, but if I held it up to the light I could see their names through the marker.”
The names of her biological parents are Alex Wassaykeesik of Mishkeegogamang Ojibway Nation and Barbra Ann Maggotte from the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen Tribe, near Savant Lake.
“All my life I remember looking up at the sky and wondering if my mom was thinking about me,” Dupuis said, wistfully.
It turned out, she was.
On her 18th birthday, Dupuis approached CAS and found that her mother had recently updated her contact information in the case her daughter came looking for her. She hopped a bus to Thunder Bay that same day.
“When I met my mom she said, ‘Oh, you look like your dad!’ But I also found out my mom was suffering from cancer so I spent the next 11 years with my mother, getting to know her but also assisting her with the end of her life. I was extremely grateful to have met her and gotten to know her, but there was the trauma of losing her again too,” she said.
After her mother passed away, Dupuis moved back to Ottawa around the time of the Sixties Scoop class action lawsuit.
“I actually applied [for compensation] the first day they started,” she noted.
In 2017, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations at the time, Carolyn Bennett, announced the settlement of the federal lawsuit would be between $25,000 to $50,000 for survivors of the Sixties Scoop.
But even Dupuis, who applied early, faced difficulties in the compensation process. Before the August 30, 2019 deadline to apply for compensation she had to update her information twice and obtain a letter from the CAS branch in Kenora, Ontario.
Many scrambled to meet the deadline. In the last 72 hours she described how a friend and fellow survivor helped about 10 others to finish their applications.
“The deadline was just a way for the government to put a cap on it. They’ve taken so many of us. To this day they’re taking us,” argued Dupuis. “They should have extended the deadline, but beyond that, there shouldn’t be a time limit on it.”
That’s when Dupuis shared her story with CBC Montreal and echoed sentiments expressed by many who felt re-traumatized by the application process.
“Us Sixties Scoop survivors, we don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to talk to when we’re triggered,” insisted Dupuis. “So we rely on each other.”
She also explained that when her compensation does arrive, she and several other survivors intend to pool their money to create a support system for survivors in the Ottawa area.
“As a Sixties Scoop survivor, you have to do it yourself because no one will do it for you,” Dupuis concluded.
At press time, there had been no announcement of an extension to the deadline. However, there is a grace period from August 31 to November 28 that will allow late applicants to apply for special consideration if they have a disability or can prove undue hardship or exceptional circumstances.
Collectiva, the third-party service handling the federal compensation application process, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.