Welcome to AMMSA.COM, the news archive website for our family of Indigenous news publications.

NFB films reveal sad tales of foster children


Josie Auger, Windspeaker Staff Writer, Edmonton







Page 10

"Fosterchild" and "Richard Cardinal: Cry From A Diary Of A Metis Child," two NFB films, tell the true life, tragic stories of Native foster children who have gone through society's child welfare system.

"Richard Cardinal: Cry From A Diary Of A Metis Child" is so heart-wrenching one would prefer to believe it never happened but it did.

Cardinal, a victim of the child welfare system, had been shuffled through fourteen foster homes, a number of group homes and youth shelters.

At 17 years-of-age, he hung himself. But he left behind a poignant diary that forced people to make changes to Alberta's out-dated Child Welfare Act.

In the film, Cardinal's older brother bitterly talks about some of the horrible experiences they had together. The foster parents of the two boys were also interviewed.

But much of the basis of the film comes from the sad, gut-wrenching diary of Richard Cardinal.

Born in Fort Chipewyan, he lived there with his natural family. But the family's alcoholism was the major factor why the children were separated by Alberta Social Services.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police moved the children to Fort McMurray where they were given different foster parents.

Richard and his older brother Charlie were housed together for the first while.

In the film, Charlie sadly says how much having a family meant to his younger brother. All Richard ever knew as family was Charlie.

The older brother bitterly regrets not once ever having the opportunity to reunite with the other children when Richard was alive.

During their time together Richard clung on to his older brother for love and caring until he had to go for psychological help.

Although he was known to be quiet, rarely talking to anyone about his feelings, Richard was an eloquent writer at his young age as shown in the pain and anguish in his diary.

After his death, the media unleashed accusing questions at the conduct of Alberta Social Services and political leaders. Subsequently, people began to become more aware of the need for change in handling Native foster children.

Today, Metis and Native leaders are repatriating children back to the reserve, to give them a sense of identity.

Gil Cardinal was another foster child who began a search for his roots.

"Fosterchild" is a clean unstaged, unrehearsed story of Edmonton Gil Cardinal's search for his real family.

As a child, Cardinal, sensed he didn't quite fit in. His skin color and last name were different. According to Cardinal, he grew up brown on the outside and white on the inside.

After completing his education at NAIT and working at ACCESS. Cardinal went on to a career in film.

1985's "Fosterchild" gives the raw unpretentious feelings Gil Cardinal went through searching for his mother, Lucy Cardinal.

The search was time-consuming and frustrating as Cardinal inquired about his background to Alberta Social Services but was denied information because of its policy of refusing to release such information. The department had a two inch thick file on him.

Cardinal continued his search and discovered his mother, Lucy Cardinal died in Edmonton's skid row.

Lucy Cardinal had three boys she gave up to social services because she could not give them a better life. Gil Cardinal discovered his mother once lived on skid row and had a drinking problem that landed her in jail.

Cardinal deals with the image he has of his mother by talking to his friend, Maria Campbell. She explains that because Lucy was raised in residential school, it took away any opportunity to learn any parenting skills.

During the 50's, there were no support groups for women raising children alone. It was a tough life.

In "Fosterchild", Gil Cardinal never gets the chance to meet his family. He had two brothers, but one passed away while his younger brother didn't want to talk.

Then Cardinal finds out his father is alive, someone he never though about. Gil always assumed he was the product of a "one-night stand".

In the film, he leaes Edmonton for Calling Lake to find out about this man but the community doesn't want to talk about his father.

Finally, Francis Cardinal tells him his father was Joe Decoine, his mother's uncle.

Standing on a street, just before the veterans' parade Gil meets Decoine. Decoine adamantly denies the possibility of being a father because he couldn't have children.

Gil Cardinal is left standing on a street. His personal story is a common one of many Native foster children.

Both of these National Film Board films provide further evidence of the damaging effects of the personal and cultural dislocation Native children have had to face through generations.