She Was Forcibly Removed From Her Family as a Child – Now Indigenous Educator Is Reclaiming Her Stolen Identity

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Growing up, Lori Campbell didn’t really know who she was. Nowadays, the Indigenous educator speaks with more confidence on the subject.

“I am the granddaughter of a Residential School survivor. I am the daughter of a First Nations woman who survived having each of her seven children stolen and relocated through the Sixties Scoop assimilation policy,” she write in an article on The Conversation.

The Sixties Scoop was a large-scale effort to remove Indigenous children from their families and place them in non-Indigenous foster families. It started in the 1960s and continued throughout the 1980s.

The term came from a description by a social worker who described mostly newborn babies being “scooped” from their mothers on reserves. At the same time as Residential Schools were being phased out, new efforts in “child protection” provided yet another channel for separating Indigenous families and isolating their children.

And that’s exactly how Campbell describes it: she felt isolated. During those years in foster care, she could never have envisioned that she would become an educator, much less get a university education. She never would have believed that, years later, she would be receiving a prestigious education-related award. 

Indigenous Educator Reclaims Her Stolen Identity

The truth is, Campbell didn’t even see herself going to university — until her basketball skills were noticed by the University of Regina. Now, the Indigenous educator has four degrees and holds the title of Associate Vice-President of Indigenous Engagement at the University of Regina. 

It was a long road from the little girl who was ripped from her family and forced to assimilate to today’s respected leader who helps young people re-tie those broken strings. “This is like a full circle thing,” Campbell says.

And it had to start with a 25-year-long journey to find her mother and siblings. Reconnecting with them and rebuilding her family was key to reclaiming her stolen identity and forging her own place in the world.

“Time and time again,” Campbell says, “Indigenous people who have been displaced through assimilation policies and other colonization tactics tell me they profoundly desire opportunities to learn more about who they are, where they come from and to understand our cultures.”

Education Is Key

Today, Campbell can describe herself as a member of the Montreal Lake Cree First Nation, Cree-Métis from Treaty 6 Territory with deep roots in Treaty 4. She describes her role at the University of Regina as “advancing processes of engagement in Indigenization, decolonization, and reconciliation in postsecondary education and administration.”

And while she has speaking engagements all over the world, it’s not to talk about the past or the future. Instead, Campbell draws from her own experience to help Indigenous students who may be feeling disconnected. To do that, she wants to make sure they claim their rightful place in postsecondary education. 

Indeed, it was at First Nations University of Canada that Campbell first started to feel accepted. It was there that she reclaimed her history and her culture.

Rebuilding Families

One of her main messages to young people is to talk to their parents about who they are and reconnect to their family history. “As they’re learning healing backwards, there’s this chain reaction and I think that’s a beautiful thing,” she says. 

At the University of Regina, Campbell advocates for a place for Indigenous students in higher education, mentoring them and working to reshape curriculum for inclusion.

“I try to focus on creating a space and place where Indigenous students, staff and faculty can bring their unapologetic Indigenous selves…and take what they want or need from what’s in the institution already to use for their benefit,” the respected Indigenous educator explained. For her tireless efforts, Lori Campbell was awarded a 2023 Indspire Award in the education category. 

Toward True Reconciliation

In 2022, when Pope Francis travelled to Canada, Campbell was unimpressed with what she saw as an insufficient apology.

But she was undeterred from her true mission: “Reconciliation is how you guide conversations with your family while having dinner. It’s how you acknowledge the Pope’s apology and how you deepen the discussion to talk about what wasn’t said. It’s those conversations that will contribute to a future where everyone in Canada can thrive, including Indigenous Peoples.”

Lori Campbell sees true healing through strengthening family ties and helping Indigenous people recognize their true selves in all walks of life. “The struggles within Indigenous communities today are not cultural traits. They are symptoms of a people still struggling from the intergenerational trauma and horrors experienced through the genocidal acts and abuses that took place through the Residential School assimilation policy.”

And her role is to educate — because education is the key to understanding one’s past, present and future.

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