WARNING: This story contains distressing details
The co-creator and showrunner for a series premiering this week hopes that her personal connection to the subject matter will shine through.
“I just hope people feel the love that was put into this, and I hope that non-Indigenous people feel connected to it because the stories are relatable, but also I guess unique, in the sense that nobody really knows very much about the Sixties Scoop,” said Jennifer Podemski, an award winning producer and actor from Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation in Saskatchewan, which is about 60 kilometres from Regina.
Little Bird, which premiers May 26 on Crave and APTN Lummi, is a six-part series about a young woman’s journey as she searches for her birth family and discovers truths of her past.
One of these discoveries is that she was apprehended during the Sixites Scoop, a government practice in Canada from the 1960s to 1980s of removing Indigenous children from their homes and placing them in foster homes or putting them up for adoption.
The protagonist in Little Bird is Esther Rosenblum, who was fostered into a Jewish family not knowing where she was from or why she was fostered out.
Esther’s search eventually leads her to the Prairies to find her birth family.
Podemski is Anishinaabe and Cree on her mother’s side and Jewish on her father’s. Her mother and grandparents were residential school survivors and her father’s parents were Holocaust survivors.
Podemski said Little Bird was a perfect opportunity to create something that was close to her lived experience in terms of identity.
She was brought the idea for the story and thought of her experiences working with Sixties Scoop survivors. Developing the show took six years from concept to completion.
“I tried to make it very Saskatchewan-centric just because it made sense for me to to have that more authentic voice,” she said.
Darla Contios was contemplating quitting acting for good when she received an email from one of the casting directors about auditions for Little Bird.
She decided to give it one more go and audition for Esther. She got the role.
Contois is from Grand Rapids Cree Nation but lives in Winnipeg. She studied at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People and is a graduate of a three-year program at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre.
She decided to dig deep into the role, which included learning a lot about Judaism, because Esther was taken at a young age and fostered by a Jewish family.
“I took a crash course at a synagogue here in Winnipeg, and I worked with a Montreal Jewish voice coach,” said Contois.
The story follows Esther’s search for the Indigenous family she was taken from.
Betty Ann Adam, a Sixties Scoop survivor from Fond Du Lac Dene First Nations in Saskatchewan, shared her own story of finding the family she was separated from in a documentary called Birth of a Family.
Adam learned about her birth family when she was 19 years old, but didn’t find all of them until she was well into her 50s. They now all keep in touch and visit each other’s homes when they can.
Adam said Little Bird tells an important story.
“Sixties Scoop people, we were separated from our families. Eventually governments were apologizing for doing it, but there was no real assistance in helping us reconnect with anyone who was a foster child.” said Adam.
“I thought that was a really interesting thing, especially when the government talks about reconciliation. I think that they could do a lot more to help families connect.”
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience as part of the Sixties Scoop or residential schools.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.
Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.