“Confusion.. am I Cree or what did you say I was? .. why is my skin brown and not white like yours? .. you say I don’t belong here; what is a reserve? .. where do I belong?….”
More than 20 years ago, Cree artist George Littlechild put these words into an extensive multimedia installation titled Dis-placed Indians: The Sixties Scoop. They were from his cousin, Priscilla Riel, about her time in foster care—an experience Littlechild himself shared, having been in foster care himself for much of his childhood.
When Littlechild created Dis-placed Indians in 1996, it was one of the few works of art ever exhibited about the experience of Indigenous children being adopted or fostered out into non-Indigenous families.
An excerpt from George Littlechild’s installation Dis-placed Indians: The Sixties Scoop details the experiences of his cousin Priscilla Riel, pictured in her first-communion dress.
But in a few weeks, Littlechild’s groundbreaking installation will finally find a home alongside other works on this topic in Canada’s first major art exhibition about the Sixties Scoop.
“We are looking at a really broad history, because the Sixties Scoop actually started in the ’50s, and currently many children are still being placed in care,” says Urban Shaman director Daina Warren, herself an adoptee and a coordinator of the exhibition.
The exhibition, titled “A Place Between,” will be held at Urban Shaman in Winnipeg from April 7 to 28, with related musical performances on April 7 and a symposium and feast on April 8. There will also be film screenings on April 22, 24 and 25, and a public-art billboard component.
“It’s pretty monumental,” says Warren. “I haven’t heard of any other show dealing with this that is specifically designated.”
In total, work by 24 artists and creators—most of whom are adoptees—will be represented, including Benjamin Chee Chee, Lacy Morin-Desjarlais and Jim Poitras. Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary about adoptee Richard Cardinal is also one of the featured works.
There are four new artworks being commissioned for the project—including a billboard by Scott Benesiinaabandan, a new piece by George Littlechild, a film by Tasha Hubbard and a work by Jessica McMann-Sparvier.
“It’s a big, very complex, weighty exhibition,” says Warren.
A photo from the archive of George Littlechild.
Given the weightiness of the material—in addition to losing their culture, many adoptees or children in care were abused—Warren and project co-founder Marcel Balfour (a senior policy analyst with the Assembly of Manitoba First Nations) have also coordinated community conversation sessions in advance of the exhibition’s run.
“There are a lot of adoptees here in Manitoba, as well as across Canada,” says Warren. “We wanted it to be a safe conversation, and we don’t want people to be retraumatized.”
One of these community conversations took place at Thunderbird House on March 7, another on March 16 at the University of Winnipeg, and another at Ka Ni Kanichihk on January 19. There was also one in December at Neechi Commons.
This community approach, Warren said, was inspired by the model set by the “Walking With Our Sisters” project currently touring Canada, which honours missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The exhibition comes at a time of increasing recognition of the Sixties Scoop’s negative impact on Indigenous people and culture. In February, an Ontario judge ruled in favour of a class-action lawsuit on the part of Ontario survivors of the Sixties Scoop. This month, more class action suits were also filed.
An image from Two Scoops by Jackie Traverse.
This article was updated on March 23, 2017, with additional information about recent Sixties Scoop court decisions and filings.