After an early forced adoption, an Indigenous man rediscovers his identity

Eric Wardell, an Indigenous man from Canada’s Northwest Territories, was taken from his parents at just three weeks old, in what is known in Canada as the “sixties scoop.” In this first-person story, Wardell explores his identity — what it means to discover who you are, and how your past can shape your future. This story is part of the ‘Turning Points’ series: stories told by Indigenous people from Yellowknife, Canada in partnership with the Global Reporting Centre.


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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    We've been bringing you a series of stories told by Indigenous people from Yellowknife in Canada's northwest territories. In partnership with the Global Reporting Centre, they are sharing their personal stories of life, addiction and recovery. Eric Wardell was taken from his parents at just three weeks old, in what is known in Canada as the "sixties scoop." His story is an exploration of identity — what it means to discover who you are, and how your past can shape your future.

  • Eric Wardell:

    The world was not designed for FAS people.

    With FAS, for me, I'm really hyper. I'm really like, you know, like fast. You know, you think can you do this? And I'll run over and I will run back and, you know, it's like slow down Eric, slow down.

    Everything's just boom, boom, boom, boom. You know what I mean like…

  • Text on Screen:

    It is estimated that in Canada, more than 3,000 babies a year are born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Researchers have estimated that youth with FAS are 19 times more likely to be incarcerated than youth without.

    So how I interpret things – not to say that my mind's warped – but some things are just a little different how I see it. You know like, I like it… I don't like to say it but, you know like, to steal, you know I didn't see anything wrong with it.

    I have over eighty convictions on my record. Forty of them are B&Es. I don't break into houses, I don't, you know, carry weapons.

    I broke in the businesses for the money, take the money, run to my sister and party, you know like drugs, drinking, hotel rooms and when that's all gone, go and do another B&E.

  • Text on Screen:

    In 1968, when Eric was 3 weeks old, he was taken from his parents. In what is now known as the 60s scoop.

    They took me from my native family and gave me to Caucasian people. We lost our identity, lost our language.

    I did not know how… how deeply it affected me to this day. It's tough. It's tough. It's like, to take that, like, oh my god, you wish you could take it all back, but I am where I am.

    When I was adopted, you know, there was no information. That's what really gets me. There was no, this is your nationality, these are your parents. I didn't know nothing.

  • Text on Screen:

    In 1995, Eric found out he was originally from the Dene community Fort Good Hope, NWT. That's when he decided to visit his home community.

  • Eric Wardell:

    I was really proud. I was really proud to say like, "Hey I'm Dene." You know I belong to some, you know, people.

    It was a shock. I've never been in a native community before like that.

    I never had anybody, like you know in my life like, "Come on in, you know, eat." I've never had people do this. Like usually they, you know, shoo you away. And they were so kind, so open-hearted

    You know, I'll be honest with you, I'm 50 years old, I started stealing when I was 6, I didn't stop (until) when I was 46. Umm and all that time, people were mad at me, people were frustrated, people were, you know, like, "Aren't you ever gonna get it, Eric?" You know, and I never gave up.

  • Text on Screen:

    After being incarcerated 25 times Eric was referred to Wellness Court – an alternative to conventional criminal court, designed to help offenders who have underlying issues that contribute to their criminal behavior.

  • Eric Wardell:

    I was in the program for 16 months.

    And that really helped me. After I was done wellness the judge said, "I do care about you Eric, I want to make sure you're on the right path to a new life."

    And when the court was over I actually went up and shook the prosecutor's hand. I've never done that, and it was almost like a relief you know, it was almost like, hey the sun is shining again. It's you know, no more gloomy days for Eric.

    You know and I still know that just one thought in my head I can go do a B&E, I can go steal. You know I still have trauma in my life, I still have that you know, "Why did my mother throw me away?" But today I'm doing so much better. I've got a little bit of work, I have, you know, a little home to live in. I realize what I have today. You know? I have a lot to give.

  • Text on Screen:

    One year later, Eric decided to share another aspect of his identity.

  • Eric Wardell:

    Growing up I was always causing problems because I'm FAS, but nobody looked more at the field of what's going on with me. I feel like I lost a lot of years of my life not being who I am. Like my real self.

    I feel good in the sense that I feel better being a woman. To be honest. Like seriously, and there's nothing wrong with it. I've done it before with other friends, with my sisters, but for me to go out there and actually do it… it's scary.

    You know? So I've got to go see a therapist or I've got to go talk about this.

    Maybe my whole life, my stealing and that, was because I felt mixed up about who I am. How I am. At the same time, I thought, like, 'Don't be afraid. Don't be ashamed.'

    There's nothing wrong with being transgender. So why can't I be totally honest with how this is? Because maybe my story and my truthfulness might help someone down the road.

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