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Clara Blacksmith about Customary and Traditional Adoption

Can you explain to us your understanding of customary/traditional adoption?

The way I see it and understand is…I raised a child on my own because it wasn’t really taken good care of. I taught myself and I learned to raise my children when I did this. I raised this boy on my own. I raised it not to take it for good. I never heard or knew anything of customary/traditional adoption, only what I experienced and saw. I never heard anything from my parents or anyone about it.

Do you know of any children who have been customarily/traditionally adopted? If so, how long?

I know that children were raised according to our custom and traditions. As for me, I didn’t go to school all that much, and I guess those who did go to school had to be taught the Cree way of raising children. It is true that Jimmy Neeposh was raised in a customary way. I remember him, I am older than him and I knew him because we used live with him. I remember what use to happen to him. George Icebound’s late wife use to be kept at one time too, just as Jimmy. I knew Jimmy and what happened to him. Jimmy found someone who would take good care of him, even as a young man.

To your knowledge, why do you think customary/traditional is practiced? For example: reasons for adoption

I don’t see much of it today. I don’t see much care for children like in the old days. I don’t see the ways that I was raised up in. I don’t see many parents practice the old traditional methods with their children. I think it had to do with the parenting methods.

To your knowledge, are the current customary/traditional practices, you’re familiar with, the same as in the past?

Grand-parents raised many of their grand-children because they were good teachers. It is true that children were taken out of negative lifestyles in homes. In the old days, people didn’t drink as much as today. Today, children are taken when such negativity is happening in homes. For instances, some parents had favourites among their kids. Some children were left-out or favoured over others. I saw this happen. Jackie Happyjack is one example. I remember when he was like a reject in his family. He was treated like that. Parents showed favouritism between their children at times.

Do you think that over the past ten years, that these practices have increase, decreased or does it remain the same?

I don’t think it has changed. It does kind of remain the same. It is because of the way life is around the reserve. There is much alcohol and drug abuse happening. People neglect or leave their children alone at home. This is probably why this is happening. The bigger the problems become or the more alcohol or drugs are consumed…it worsens children’s situation.

Do you believe that these customary/traditional practices be recognized by the Quebec government?

I think the government should recognize, after all, we do live and come from Quebec. It doesn’t want to recognize even we are here or come from here. We can’t go anywhere else anyways.

If recognized, do you think these practices will increase, decrease or remain the same?

If the government will look at in a right way, we will increase or keep on moving. I think that the government doesn’t want to look at us or see us. It would definitely move slightly if he recognized us.

In the current Quebec system, social services evaluations of parents want to adopt children. Do you believe that social services should be involved in the customary/traditional adoption process? Why?

Social would need toask for assistance if they are to assist. They would need to ask the elders how they raised children. The way they do it today by removing children from homes of those drinking is not a good way. It looks like they are helping the parents to drink while they place the children. When the parents are partying and the social services take their children. After they party, the parents get their children back. The parents should pay for their kids being taken care of while they drank. Instead of social service paying for the placement, the parents should pay for the service. It looks that they are helping the parents more the children. I guess they should pay for the babysitting service…kind of. It is like that...they are called when the children need to go home or when the parents have finished partying…they call and they get their children back. I do not accept that and I do not approve of it. It looks that they are just helping the parents to party. That is the way I see it. That Youth Protection program is like that too. They take the youth, being under age…usually the parents request for that service. The youth are taken and usually nothing is really being done for the youth because he/she goes out repeating what he did wrong. They are not helping the situation or the child is what bothers me. They seem helping worsen the situation. It seems to be always the same kids who go to Youth protection coming back out to the same problem they had when they went in….like caught breaking windows. It is the same under-aged kids. They do nothing for the kid…without any assistance or a placement where they can help them.

Do you know if there is or there have been any legal adoptions under the current Quebec system within the community?

I do not know of anyone.

Do you if there are more customary/traditional or legal adoptions in your community? Would it increase, decrease or remain the same.

I feel they are the same. We see or rather I see how children and youth do not like to stay in the bush. When they were younger, yes, they would go to the bush, but not as they got older. We are losing that in our youth and children.

Even if the QC government helps, there would still be some changes. It wouldn’t increase, meaning that the customary/traditional adoptions would remain the same even if the government recognized it.

Is there anything you would to say or add?

I see many children and youth in trouble. Many parents lack parenting. When the children are taken from homes, while parents party and returning them to their homes, it does not help the situation. The parents continue to leave their children knowing the system and do not care to change. Truly the under-aged will find it hard to be put in an elder’s care as they are already rebellious and careless. Because of the changed attitudes and behaviour, it will be hard to get the youth or children to stay in the bush.

Perhaps at a younger age, they will be easier to take in the bush. Kids still very young are still being left alone or neglected.

I raised four kids of my own. I had three boys and one girl. First time I raised a child, I was not married. It is true that we drank when we were young, but I can honestly say that we never abandoned or neglected our children. There were no social services in our time too. We never saw them around to do what they do today when parents left their children alone. It wasn’t easy; it was hard to raise a child in my time. Without bragging, there was no time when police would come and report our children’s mischief or behaviour problem. We were never approached about our children being out of place or in trouble. I guess it’s because I was strict. I kept my children on my own many times. My husband was away at work and I would keep my kids.

I received nothing for my own kids. When I raised Gilles, I received payments, although I never knew about it at first. Gilles was still a baby when my stepfather brought him to me one day. Gilles was in a very bad environment. He was neglected and not taken care of. We kept him all that time and he grew up in our family. Parents never said or did anything about it. We, only, found out about social services when we returned to Miquelon. We found out that through the social services that we could receive financial assistance and we accepted it. By the social service, we were helped, but it was the elders who took Gilles and placed him with us. The parents never said or did anything about it. Gilles was sickly and had been in the hospital in Lasarre. His sickness originated from the cold when he was neglected and not taken care of. Even to this day, he visits and calls us momma and papa…his children call us their grand-parents. We still keep in touch with the family. They come around and ask for money too… (Clara laughs about it)

Wally and Emma Saganash on Customary and Traditional Adoption

Can you explain to us your understanding of customary/traditional adoption?

Well, that’s the way, I raised some children. There were no diapers needed when I raised children. I never went to seek and pick a child. Many times, children were brought to our place and I was asked if I could take care of them. I was told that I wouldn’t keep them for long, howeve,r all the children ended up staying for a very long time. They did that to nearly all the kids that were brought us.

Do you know of any children who have been customarily/traditionally adopted? If so, how long?

Alex was brought to us. His mother was sick. I kept Alex Blacksmith and he stayed for two years only. That was the shortest time I kept a child. Then I kept Alice Saganash, she was a permanent stay with me. She is registered under us. I kept for good. I, also, kept Clifford Gull and James Saganash. James, although, her parents were still alive and around, he still refused to go home. He wouldn’t want to go home. He would keep running back to us when we tried to take him home. Eventually, we let him be.

To your knowledge, why do you think customary/traditional is practiced? For example: reasons for adoption

As for Bruno, his mother was shot and killed when he was a baby. When Bruno’s brothers and sisters were brought in from Val D’Or, I had already stated that I wouldn’t take anymore children. After James, that was it for me. James was rough time for me and I didn’t want to take another child after him.

So when the kids were brought to Waswanipi from Val D’Or, they invited us to a meeting that the Blacksmith family had. They asked me immediately if I could keep one of the kids. I told them that I had intended to quit looking after other children now. When they asked me, I had already informed them of my decision to stop looking after other children. I was asked if I could Leroy or Bruno. I told them I couldn’t do it.

I was getting sick and ill as my body couldn’t take it anymore. I told them that was it. I, then, told my husband that we should go home. I insisted that I was not able to keep Bruno, he was much too young. Five minutes after we went home, the police drove in our driveway bringing the child.

They said that we should keep for at least four days after all the paperwork and after a home was found. So I agreed, and it been past four days, today he’s twenty-three years old and I still have him. (They laughed at this).

I couldn’t let him go, although I settled with myself not to keep anymore children. I found it in my heart to keep him. I decided to keep him and raise him. Today he is doing god and we are fine. He is very intelligent.

To your knowledge, are the current customary/traditional practices, you’re familiar with, the same as in the past?

It is not the same any more. Other people may think so. I don’t see it being practiced. I know how it is. People tend to go for the easy way. The kids I kept, I fed them partridge broil and they grew up just fine. This is how I raised the children I had in my care. This is the way it was for me.

Do you think that over the past ten years, that these practices have increase, decreased or does it remain the same?

It cannot remain the same. I see many things that are not like in times past. The Cree way of life is not being used.

Do you believe that these customary/traditional practices be recognized by the Quebec government?

If you look at the children, I help raise I received no assistance for Alex, Alice James, and Clifford. I received some help for Bruno though. I was handed the children and I received no assistance whatsoever. I didn’t even get their family allowance. Even the federal government didn’t help. I had problems trying to get Bruno’s family allowance. They told me I couldn’t get it and I was getting assistance through the welfare program only. I only got two years of assistance for Bruno. We raised the children all on our own.

If recognized, do you think these practices will increase, decrease or remain the same?

Maybe it’ll remain the same. (chuckles about it) Only a few people will care for children. They still ask me today to look after children. I have to refuse. (Wally) As elders it is time to stop. We are getting to old and sickly to continue to do so. So it is probably the same.

In the current Quebec system, social services evaluations of parents want to adopt children. Do you believe that social services should be involved in the customary/traditional adoption process? Why?

As for me, I am sure I never received help for the children I got. Social service never brought any children to me. People usually brought their own children to me. They should help .I kept Alice’s child when she was in prison. I had her child from them. This is recent and my cheque is probably at the office. (Emma) As for me I don’t know how they can help. (Wally) Children should receive immediate attention and help. They should go and check the homes and how the home is.

I am keeping Clifford’s son today. Clayton, Clifford’s son stays with us. When I had Clifford, they (the Gull family) didn’t want to change Clifford’s last name to Saganash. I kept him and they wanted to keep his name under them and they had no involvement when I had him. Ella wanted to keep him but didn’t because she couldn’t.

9. Do you know if there is or there have been any legal adoptions under the current Quebec system within the community? Will it increase, decrease or remain the same?

I know of no one and nothing about it. It will probably remain the same. Nothing will change. Everything will probably stay as it is.
It’s like I never got help when I asked for it. Even through the welfare program. When Marlene Dixon inquired if I received help for Bruno, I told her I got nothing, she helped me get financial assistance.That was the only time I received help.

Do you if there are more customary/traditional or legal adoptions in your community?

I see how the native children are taken from home because of alcohol. The children are placed somewhere and the guardians get paid. I never got that kind of assistance for all the children I help raise. Even if they keep the children for two or three days, they got paid a lot. No wonder, these parents continue to drink. They have this assistance for them anyways. I see more of the white man’s handling of children.

Is there anything you would to say or add?

(Emma)I don’t know how the white man raises his children. They take children, place them and sometimes move them around and pay people. It’s like that. (Wally) However, when children are in good homes, they don’t leave those who take good care of them. They know and understand that. They know where they learned and they learned with those who took good care of them. When they saw how their guardians lived, they learned by observation.

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