I have a mission statement in life: “share stories that increase an understanding of Aboriginal peoples here and around the world.”
My story began when I was adopted as a Cree child, by the Rajotte family in Winnipeg in the 1960’s. From that decade until the early 1980’s, thousands of Indigenous children were adopted into non-Indigenous, middle class homes. This era has become known as the “60s Scoop.”
As a child, I had big dreams to become a television journalist. After high school, I attended the University of Manitoba where I was usually the only Aboriginal person in my university classes.
In the 1990’s I was a television reporter for CBC’s The National covering everything from forest fires to a big prison riot in Winnipeg, and a documentary about native street gangs.
In 1998, the CBC asked me to work on a TV current affairs program called All My Relations, the first in Canada to focus on Indigenous issues.
I found my biological family in 2001 and the story of my journey to discover my roots and birth family is the subject of a documentary I have been working on for years.
In 1999, I left the CBC and started making independent documentaries. My first was Jaynelle: It’s Never Easy to Escape the Past, the story of a young aboriginal mother living for two years on social assistance. To learn more about my independent documentary work, check out www.rajottedocs.com.
In 2001, I co-founded the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival with Jim Silver from the University of Winnipeg. We celebrate our 15th anniversary this year!!
In 2006, I established Vitality Television Inc. about healthy living. We have expanded the concept to “Vitality Gardening”.
I have also written a screenplay based on my research around the 1960s scoop. Concrete Indian is the story of two brothers and their attempt to re-connect after being separated and adopted in the United States.
I have been reflecting on my life lately and I know I was meant to tell stories. As an older and wiser person, I see the full impact of colonization and I really think more has to be done to increase understanding about issues such as the intergenerational consequences of Residential Schools and the “60s Scoop.”
Sixties Scoop adoptees came together for Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival on November 24, 2015.
“It’s a dark part of history, people need to recognize this,” said Colleen Rajotte, WAFF director. Several Sixties Scoop adoptees took part in a day of healing as part of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival (WAFF). From the 1960s to the 80s, an estimated 20,000 Inuit, Metis and First Nations children were taken from their parents and placed with mostly white families as part of the 60s Scoop.
“This is not a well-known fact. We’re really looking for the same recognition that residential school survivors have,” said Colleen Rajotte, the director of the festival. “We as adoptees were sent out around the world and we never saw another brown face until we made it back home and saw our families.”
Adoptees of the Scoop gathered at Thunderbird House and participated in a sharing circle, panel discussion and watched two films about adoption and children in care.
The first film the group watched was called Miranda’s Story. The film was made by inner-city youth and chronicles a woman who has her kids taken away and adopted out to another family.
Showing that movie was meant to spark a discussion about issues currently facing the child-welfare system in Canada, Rajotte said.
Confronting the Past
The second movie, based on a true story produced by Rajotte, was called Confronting the Past.
“It’s about three siblings from northern Manitoba. Their parents were killed in a car crash and they were sent all the way to New Orleans to a horribly abusive home,” said Rajotte. “Two of them made it back, but their brother is still in a Louisiana prison.”
In making the film, Rajotte went to the southern U.S. to visit and interview the brother, named Eric Orgeron, in prison.
“It really makes a point that so many of our kids have been forgotten about. We’re all getting older and we really need to deal with this,” she said. “Today we’re really focused on, ‘How can we move forward?’ We need counselling, we need support, we need understanding and we need recognition.”
Rajotte said there are still people out there that were adopted out and need help getting in touch with their roots and culture.
“It’s a dark part of history, people need to recognize this,” she said.