Rolanda Murphy returns from her room wearing an orange “every child matters” t-shirt and a traditional Aboriginal skirt.
The skirt has been adapted to her small size. It is red, with a pretty floral print and a ribbon border.
“I got the skirt for my 50th birthday last year. It’s my most prized possession besides my white eagle feather,” she said before going to retrieve the feather.
“That’s it. It’s the white eagle feather,” she said, emotions weighing heavily in her voice. “It was given to me by my home community. …I love it! It’s all part of me, who I am.”
Over the past 20 years, Murphy has struggled to reconnect with her Anishinaabe roots. Originally, Rolanda was from the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba. But in June 1973, she was placed in a foster family. At the age of three, she was adopted and arrived on the South Shore of Montreal.
I ask Rolanda what it was like to be a Sixties Scoop kid. His voice calms down.
“I am one of the lucky ones.”
The Sixties Scoop refers to a set of policies from the 1960s to the 1980s where Canada’s social service programs removed Indigenous children from their families and placed them into adoption by non-Indigenous families. Many children have been forcibly removed from their traditional homes, losing all connection with their language, culture and identity. Some have suffered physical or sexual abuse.
As one of these lucky ones, she feels “pampered” to have been taken in by her adoptive family in Chateauguay, Quebec.
“We could have easily become a statistic had we grown up on our reserve,” she says.
Sagkeeng, approximately 120 kilometers northeast of Winnipeg, is the home community of several missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, including tina fountain.
“The bond between sisters is unbreakable”
“I always knew I was aboriginal, or an Indian from Canada that the government labeled us at the time,” she jokes. And she recalls that social services at one point mistakenly identified her as Cree.
But her adoptive parents had told her she was from Manitoba, and in 2001 she found a repatriation program that helps reconnect children in southern Manitoba with their families.
“I told the program I would be open to finding parents, but I don’t think you’re going to find anyone,” she says. “It’s just me!”
But it turned out that she had an older sister, Kati, who was adopted from the United States.
“From the first time we saw each other, we had a strong bond,” Murphy said.
Rolanda communicates online with her sister every day. “Kati’s home care center bought her an iPad, so we could connect,” she says.
“The bond between sisters is unbreakable.
Kati has only been to Sagkeeng First Nation once since she was repatriated, but Rolanda hopes to bring her back this year, which will be easier now that Kati has her status card.
I watch to see Rolanda’s husband, Gordon, kneading the dough for the morning bread. “This area is my workspace,” Gordon said authoritatively but with a laugh under his breath.
“I do all the cooking here. Rolanda does all the sampling.”
Their Chateauguay home is adorned with all their good memories and trinkets. Collectible pictures and decorative spoons show the life they lived together.
“Gordon has been there since the beginning of my journey,” Murphy says. “He is my absolute rock.”
Murphy returned to Sagkeeng in 2009, for a week of powwows and other cultural events called Treaty Days.
“I went to reconnect with my culture, my traditions, but especially with the people, because that’s the heart of any nation,” she says.
One meeting she remembers fondly was with former community leader Donovan Fontaine, who was impressed with the work she had done to reconnect with her roots.
He presented Murphy with the White Eagle Feather during the closing presentation of the Treaty Days celebration. It was more than just a parting gift.
“Rolanda was reconnecting with her family, her community.… The gift of the white eagle feather brought healing to her,” Fontaine told me.
“With all of their identity stripped from the children of Sixties Scoop, the feather was a way for Rolanda to reconnect.”
Murphy now spends his time mentoring cadets who are part of the Royal Montreal Regiment in Westmount, Quebec. She is the captain of the group.
“I work to make better citizens for Canada, helping them develop their leadership skills, giving them opportunities to help them work in their community,” she says.
“The Creator set me up to help. I like to go full speed ahead – I always want to learn.”