60s Scoop Survivor: Rolanda’s Story

by Sonia Ruivo

September 30 is Orange Shirt Day. The day honours and upholds Survivors of the residential school system.  Not only were Indigenous children forcibly sent to residential schools, but some were also placed for adoption with non-Indigenous families who did not realize that the children had been forcibly taken from their birth families. These children are known as 60s Scoop Survivors.

60s

The 60s Scoop “refers to the mass removal of Aboriginal children from their families into the child welfare system, in most cases without the consent of their families or bands.”

Rolanda Murphy-McPhee is a teacher at the Pearson Electrotechnology Centre (PEC). Rolanda, eight months old at the time, and her two-year-old sister, Kati, were taken from their birth family and placed in foster care. Kati and Rolanda were two of the thousands of Indigenous children taken from their families during the 60s Scoop. Rolanda shared her story with staff and students at PEC last year and will do so again this year.

Rolanda Murphy-McPhee, a teacher at the Pearson Electrotechnology Centre (PEC)

Rolanda and Kati spent one year in foster care, becoming wards of the state. Rolanda’s adoptive parents were shown a picture of two babies and were told to make a choice. They didn’t realize the babies were sisters. Steven, who would become her adoptive brother, picked Rolanda. The Montreal family drove to Winnipeg to pick up Rolanda.

In her new family, Rolanda and Steven became best friends. At five and a half years old, he became her protector and watched out for Rolanda. Rolanda was raised in a loving and supportive family environment. Rolanda’s parents were very open about Rolanda being adopted and told her that she was adopted early on. Like other adoptive parents of Indigenous children, her parents had no idea that babies were being taken away from Indigenous families.

In elementary school, kids picked on Rolanda for being different. She says that even as an adult, she feels “outside the circle” in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds. Rolanda has a positive attitude. “I have the best of both worlds.” She feels that she can be whoever she wants to be. “That’s the joy of it. We don’t have to fit into what everyone else decides we must, based on our skin colour, religion or what we look like.”

Sadly, Kati had a very different experience with her adoptive family. Kati has had a difficult life. As Rolanda explained, “It was not a good adoption”. Kati’s adoptive parents have passed away. The sisters reconnected when Rolanda was 31 and have become very close. Rolanda Skypes with Kati nearly daily. Kati has special needs and now lives in an assisted living facility while holding down a job. “She’s an amazing person!”, exclaims Rolanda. Once a year, Rolanda drives to the US to spend a week with her sister. This year, after an extended Covid-forced absence, the sisters reunited for a fun-filled two-week vacation.

Her adoptive father’s death in 2000, left a big void in Rolanda’s life. When her adoptive aunt found her birth family, Rolanda was intrigued but she wasn’t ready to “open that door”. She did not want to hurt her mom.  Over the years, her mom had been subjected to insults about adopting Rolanda. She did not want people to judge her mom. The way Rolanda sees it, Mom raised her. Margaret gave birth to her. Rolanda is very close to her mom, “She’s a great mom. And I had no desire to meet my birth mother.” She learned that her birth mother passed away not long after Rolanda was adopted.

A friend gave Rolanda information about the Southern Manitoba Repatriation Centre. Not long after, she received a letter from social services in Montreal.  A family member was looking for Rolanda.

In August 2001, the Southern Manitoba Repatriation Centre sent the sisters plane tickets to meet their birth family. The sisters hadn’t seen each other since they were babies. It was a joyous reunion and filled in the emptiness that Rolanda felt. The reunion and visit with her birth family was the first time that Rolanda had been surrounded by Indigenous people. She felt like an outsider. At first, she was afraid that “what if they have the wrong person?” All her concerns disappeared when she saw a picture of her birth mother and she saw the similarities. Her fears were unfounded, and she was warmly welcomed by her community.  Since then, she has kept in touch with her birth family.

During one visit, the community’s former chief, Donovan Fontaine gifted Rolanda a white eagle feather. Receiving an eagle feather is the highest honour. Rolanda received it for her efforts to reconnect with her community. She holds the feather when she speaks in public. “Education is key. People need to hear the stories”. Rolanda shares her story in a variety of ways. She is an army reservist and a cadet officer. She works with 12–18-year-old youth and has shared her story with them. Throughout Covid, she used video tools to meet with her cadets. Although she was initially hesitant to do so, she pushed through her discomfort and soon started to feel confident.  She’s currently writing a book about her life story, and is learning Ojibway, her First Nations language.

Rolanda is also a gifted artist. She feels that her art is a gift, and the artwork is a response to the way she sees the world going: “We’ve become a society where we’ve gone from being family centred to a selfish me-first society where we don’t look out for each other. In Indigenous communities, we watch out for each other. Family is everything. “ She’s prolific and works quickly when inspired..

Another symbolic gesture that Rolanda has adopted is growing her hair. Her hair was cut in 2000 when her dad died. Today, her hair is in a long braid which symbolizes connection to culture, family, and land.