CRITIPEG: Birth of a Family

Plays Eckhardt Gramatté Hall on Jan. 17 at 7 p.m.

Saskatoon StarPhoenix reporter Betty Ann Adam was three years old in 1961 when she was taken from her mother in Uranium City, Sask. and placed into foster care. Over the next four years, her mother lost three more children to the 60s Scoop, during which provincial governments across Canada seized Indigenous children from their families to be adopted by white parents.

Birth of a Family, the documentary from director Tasha Hubbard, chronicles the first meeting of the four Adam siblings more than 50 years later.

Betty is the only sibling old enough to remember being taken from her mother. Rose, Esther and Ben grew up only having known their adopted families. Betty has spent decades working to locate and unite her siblings, some of whom grew up as far away as California.

The quartet bond in a rented cabin in Banff, exploring the countryside and planning activities, like celebrating the cumulative 212 birthdays they’ve missed.

Hubbard (herself a Scoop survivor) wisely approaches her subject from arm’s length. The film always feels close to the siblings, but Hubbard never makes obtrusive stylistic choices.

She knows that simply observing four ordinary people in an extraordinary situation is the right choice, only opting for one-on-one interviews when a sibling has something they can say to the camera, but not the group.

It’s worth noting that the Adams’ “extraordinary” meeting could easily become more commonplace. They’re only four of the estimated 20,000 Indigenous children separated from their families between 1955 and 1985, and the internet will hopefully make it easier for other broken families to reconnect.

There’s a feeling that Birth of a Family may be an early illustration of what’s soon to become a quintessential experience for a generation of Indigenous Canadians.

Birth of a Family seems to be arriving at the perfect cultural moment, as increased awareness of the 60s Scoop coincides with a surge in the popularity of family history. Be it through the many DNA test kit services (23andMe, AncestryDNA), television shows (Finding Your Roots or the many international versions of Who Do You Think You Are? and Long Lost Family) or simply the ease with which one can reconnect with distant relatives through social media, the subject of genealogy feels particularly current.

But while genealogy remains a mere hobby for many, Birth of a Family illustrates how it can be a vital tool for marginalized peoples. The Adam siblings’ meeting is more than just a family event; it’s an attempt to mend the wounds left by cultural erasure.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the scene in which the siblings nervously prepare to meet an elder for the first time. They confide in each other that none of them have any experience with traditional Indigenous spirituality and worry about offending the elder.

Instead, the elder informs them that, as a residential school survivor, he too came to his ancestral traditions late in life. It’s a warm moment of acceptance, but also a chilling reminder of the multi-generational reality of genocide in Canada.

Published in Volume 72, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 11, 2018)

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