When my youngest son, who we adopted when he was five weeks old asked me almost 10 years ago if I would help him find his birth mom I was initially filled with a feeling of dread. A lot of ‘what ifs’ filled my mind, mostly what if he loved her more than me….how very silly and selfish of me….but I had no idea what that simple question would bring to all of us.
As often happens fate plays a quiet role in many events in one’s life….and the simple question my son asked me all those years ago started a series of fateful events that have continued to play a part in Doug’s growing up years. When he was placed in our family at 5 weeks of age we were told that he was “probably Metis” – which of course was just fine with us…and we were grateful at the time he wasn’t declared a ”Status Indian Child” as the Province of Alberta has a moratorium in place that does not allow those children to be adopted. I suppose this is in response to the 60’s scoop which saw many Aboriginal children taken from their families and adopted out to families as far away as Texas; children who lost their identities as well as their families but it also creates a sad state of affairs for many children left in limbo. Fortunately at the time Doug’s supposed “Metis status” provided us with the first blessing of FATE and with it the opportunity to finalize his permanent place in our family and in our hearts …….even after we found out much more about our son.
Because he was placed with us initially as a ‘foster child’ we were well aware of Doug’s birth name but little more than his mother’s first and last name – Elize Haineault. We had no idea about any other family nor was there any offer or support from Children Services to provide us with anything more. But Fate against bestowed on us a number of events leading to the opportunity for me to be able to fulfill our son’s wish a number of years later. In my other life as a Child Protection worker I ran across another worker with the same last name as Doug’s birth mom; I had the opportunity of meeting Vic Haineault at a conference and asked if he was related to Elize (they’re cousins) and two weeks later I found myself seconded to the same Reserve where he was employed to assist with their files for a period of time. He generously shared with others at that office that a ‘sort of relative’ was coming to work and by the time I arrived on my first morning I was totally accepted by everyone – but it didn’t stop there. I learned from Vic that his family were in fact Status Indian’s and that started the very difficult, sometimes complicated and always frustrating application for Doug’s Treaty Status through INAC which we finally got some 2 years later. Over a period of months we talked about his family and I found out Doug’s mom was not well and was in a long term facility in Edmonton. This story made me realize how fragile life is and as a mom made me recognize how much she probably wished she knew about her youngest child. I wrote a letter to her and enclosed a picture of our shared son, inviting her to respond if she wanted. And of course she did – bravely replying that I was his mom but if he was interested when he grew up she would love to meet him. Reflecting back as I learn more about the Residential School’s and the 60 scoop, as well as the role Children Services has often played in the lives of First Nation families I wish this gift could be given to so many more parents who have lost their children because even those who may not be able to provide the care themselves doesn’t mean they don’t care. Can you imagine what knowing that would do to a child’s esteem and to parent’s heart?
In the fall of 2007 we received a call from one of Elize’s sisters – out of the blue – but advising us that she was sick in the hospital and may not live to see her youngest grow up. After some family discussion we broached the subject with Doug asking if he would like to meet his birth mom and telling him a little about her current circumstances. I later asked him why he had wanted to meet her and he simply said he wanted to see what she looked like – but that meeting gave him (and us) so much more. The night we arrived at the hospital to meet Elize we were greeted by three of her sisters = Kathryn, Betty and Rose who were very excited to meet their youngest nephew and with Elize we also met Doug’s bio sister Sally. That meeting was not long but it had an emotional impact on all of us and yet there was more to come. Sadly Elize passed away in March 2008 but her death brought with it more than we could have ever imagined. As a family we were invited to attend her wake and funeral and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by her family – his sister Sally lovingly put her arm around Doug and he stood with her during the service, his Aunties who we had met in the hospital were pleased to have him there (plus other Aunties Coulette and
Lorraine) and besides a multitude of cousins we met the patriarchal head of the Haineault family – George who, although he had just lost a daughter openly showed his love toward his youngest grandson. His first words to me was ‘you know he can have treaty status don’t you”……..
This weekend was George Haineault’s 80th birthday. We drove 4 hours north to Fort McMurray to be part of the family’s celebration to honour this humble and gentle man who along with his late wife Sarah had been Elize’s parents. As I watched my son meet his many cousins and other extended family members I realized that his reply of “I wanted to see what she looked like” was ricocheting through my mind as I noted family resemblances and characteristics…my heart swelled with pride for my handsome 18 year old son who will graduate high school this Spring as he joked with his cousins and shook hands with Fort McMurray Band members who had attended the party. Fate continues to play a role in his life as we have learned he will soon become an ‘official’ member of Fort McMurray First Nations – a membership which will continue to open doors for him throughout his life. We are so blessed to have our adopted son but equally important to us is being blessed with having been adopted by his birth family and their extended family members. His Aunties are always so excited to see them, his cousins slowly getting to know him little by little at each meeting = sharing family meals where we have never been made to feel like ‘outsiders’ and we are simply Elizes’s youngest son’s mom and dad.
Speeches were given last night by family and friends extolling George’s role not only as a dad but lovingly as a grandpa and great grandpa to a growing number of beautiful children – and as a community leader who played an instrumental role in creating Fort McMurray’s Friendship Centre and through other means of making Fort McMurray grow into the vibrant city it has become. The name Haineault is highlighted on Streets and buildings throughout the town. Doug’s genes will give him the opportunity of fulfilling all his goals and as his mom I can only hope he will be a loving parent, a community leader, and be open to welcoming others into his family circle with open arms like his Grandpa George.
Adoption is a wonderful thing when you receive a child in your arms knowing you have the opportunity of raising that child as your own, to mould his growth and fall in love with this little being…..in our case we also have had the opportunity of sharing all of this with a birth family who lovingly has adopted us as well.
Till next time…………………..