Adoptee rebuilds culture after the ’60s scoop

Tyler
Tyler Clarke
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Rodney Merasty stands with University of Saskatchewan History PHD candidate Allyson Stevenson after her presentation about the 1967 to 1974 Adopt Indian and Métis program, during which timeframe a Caucasian family in Minnesota adopted him. The two are seen at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library. 

Scooped from his First Nations parents at the age of one and placed with a Caucasian family in Minnesota, Rodney Merasty was left without a solid identity.

 

“When I grew up I didn’t understand why my parents were white,” he said. “I couldn’t hope for better parents, but the more I’ve grown up the more I’ve had a hard time of understanding ‘why me?’

“It’s always a touchy issue, eh? -- which is why I try to get out of it. It tears me up inside, so I don’t really talk about it.”

Merasty felt compelled to share his story on Tuesday after University of Saskatchewan History PHD Candidate Allyson Stevenson’s presentation on Saskatchewan’s Adopt Indian and Métis program at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library.

The Adopt Indian and Métis program ran from 1967 to 1974, during which about 1,000 First Nations and Métis children were adopted into mainly Caucasian families.

In 1970, the Department of Social Services took the one-year-old Merasty away from his birth parents -- an action he said that his father wasn’t aware of until after he’d been loaded onto on a plane.

“I was pretty upset about what they did back in those days -- I don’t think it was right,” Merasty said. “When I talk about this it’s kind of a touchy issue.”

Although he loves his adoptive family, and still remains in touch with them and considers them parents, he said that he grew up missing something.

“When I was younger I did go to church all the time, but then more as a teenager I kind of got out of it,” he said. “More in my 20s I went to the native way, just to understand more. I’d go to pow-wows and stuff.”

In the mid-’90s, Merasty was pressured by his college classmates to find his birth family.

“It only took two phone calls -- that was it,” he recalled. “I was born in Flin Flon, and they called P.A., here, and that was it.”

Letter correspondence began at this time, and in 2001 he finally drummed up the courage to visit them -- “To get a lot of stuff of my chest,” he explained. “I was kind of curious about what my dad looked like and what my mom looked like, and about my family.

“When I came to Canada in 2001, that’s when I met my mother’s side, I was very relieved and happy that I’d seen them and I wanted to see more of them.”

When I grew up I didn’t understand why my parents were white ... I couldn’t hope for better parents, but the more I’ve grown up the more I’ve had a hard time of understanding ‘why me?’ Rodney Merasty

He moved to Saskatchewan in 2004, and after a stint in Albert has resettled in Prince Albert, adopted his mother’s last name, Merasty, and discovered an expansive family tree, which includes his father’s Morin side.

“Our family is huge,” he said. “It’s huge. At first I was keeping track of them on a piece of paper -- all my cousins and nieces and nephews, but I’ve got so many of them.”

Despite great strides in understanding who his and where he came from, he’s yet to find an answer to the question, “why me?”

His brother and sister were not taken away by social services -- just him. Despite conversations with his parents and the department of social services, he’s yet to understand why.

“I would say the primary goal (of the ’60s scoop) was, as always, the goal to assimilate aboriginal people, and it was just a modern method where individual Canadians could be enlisted in state goals to assimilate people,” Stevenson said.

During her research, the Melfort-area PHD candidate has interviewed a number of elders, who have come to the consensus that the only way forward is greater role by First Nations and Métis people within the current system.

“They feel strongly about aboriginal people being involved in the system currently, so they see themselves playing a role,” she explained.

“Most of the elders I spoke to were very encouraging of my research and thought it was necessary.

“As citizens of the province of Saskatchewan it helps us understand our past, it helps us understand our family, our neighbours, our friends -- some of the experiences that they might have gone through.

“It helps us empathize and sympathize with some of the after-effects that might be present in people’s lives from child removal policies, and it gives us a broader understanding of the interrelationship between child welfare and colonialism.”

Merasty said that the next step to understanding the First Nations culture in which he was torn away from will be learning the Cree language.

Organizations: First Nations, University of Saskatchewan History PHD Candidate, John M. Cuelenaere Public Library Social Services Prince Albert

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Flin Flon, Canada Albert Melfort

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