Cleo Semaganis Nicotine
I just posted something that kind of got to me at a molecular level – the last recording of Amber Tucarro released by CBC. It stirred the core of me and something sleeping awoke. I voted, got rid of Stephen Harper, but really… lately… many things have brought MMIW, the 60s and 70s scoop and the disenfranchisement of my people to light.
My sister Cleo died in 1975. She was 11 years old, and was apprehended by the province of Saskatchewan and sent to Arkansas to a foster family where she was abused. I was sent somewhere in Saskatchewan to a non-native family. I was the youngest of seven, we were all separated and sent all over the United States and Canada through the AIM program – ADOPT INDIAN AND METIS!!! “You won’t have to pay for her education” is how my parents were sold. All of us apprehended because of our Mongolian Spot – a congenital birthmark that is essentially… “a blue bum”, a bruise on the buttocks that ranges in size from a spot to across the entire backside, and can last up to seven years or more. This is a trait of aboriginal people that has NOTHING to do with abuse, yet it was reason enough for the Government of Saskatchewan to apprehend me and my six older siblings into a system far from our culture and people. AIM was a program that sought to bring native children into non-native homes to be adopted and assimilated, despite the fact that extended family could’ve cared for us. This is government segregation and genocide at its’ very finest. It is what it is, and no best-of-intentions or goodwill can mask this second wave of forced trauma and assimilation of my people (the Residential School Experience was the first wave).
My sister Cleo was 11 years old and remembered where she lived and who loved her. Whatever happened to her in Arkansas to make her want to leave, it wasn’t good – she tried to hitchhike back to Little Pine, back home to the reserve, but was picked up, raped and murdered and left by the side of the road. She was sent so far, she only wanted to come home. Her body remains in Arkansas to this day, while my brother and I try and write letters and make phone calls and try everything to get her body back to Canada.
Canada’s response? “She is no longer our responsibility because once she was sent to Arkansas she is their responsibility, not ours,” and they refuse to assist in any way. No adoption records, nothing, as if she was never even born and as if Saskatchewan would prefer to wipe her very existence off the face of this earth.
In a silver frame, in an oval on my piano is a picture of my sister, very small. Maybe an inch and a half tall, and that is all that remains. Cleo Semaganis Nicotine, my oldest sister.
Sometimes I wake up and I think I’m still in a dream, sometimes that happens to all of us. But this is a dream I cannot wake up from. Wondering constantly, would she be helping me with my kids now? Would she braid my hair and have sisterly advice? All this is gone, all this pain is government regulated. Packaged, sent, discarded and forgotten.
“Forget about it.” “Get over it.”
I cannot and will never. So I heard Amber Tucarro’s voice, and wonder what my sister’s last days were like. And does she know how much she is loved and missed?
I will be talking a lot about MMIW and the 60s and 70s scoop. I will not get over it and that’s ok. But people need to stop with the attitude that it is something we can forget.This is my life. This is our lives. This is intergenerational trauma.
This is government-regulated abuse. The governments of both Canada and United States have repeatedly reminded me and my brother what value my sister Cleo has to them. None. “Not our responsibility, not our concern,” they pass the letters along and they have ignored us for forty years. They really hope I’ll just forget about it and give up one day.
No more. I shall speak until the right people listen.
This is MY life and you will continue to hear about it. The more I talk about it, the less it weighs me down – and I really would like to deal with it… so my kids won’t have to…
Additional note… This is a very strange and frustrating story, to have your family member stolen, murdered, THEN missing. I do not know her birthdate, I do not know her full name. I do not know her resting place, nor the exact date of her death. I do not know her adopted name, I do not know how she might’ve liked her eggs in the morning or what her favourite colour was, what she liked to sing but I DO know my kids would’ve loved their Aunt Cleo, I would’ve revelled in her presence, these people that look like me.
One by one, my family passes, four of us left now, but a promise is a promise.
Cleo has a spirit that is very much alive, she stares at me across time, asking to come home. Over and over again, I dream of her and try something new to find her grave. It may even be unmarked. Such mystery, such an impossible task to find her and bring her home, but still I have hope.
I have resiliency and faith. Prayer.
The Province of Saskatchewan’s Post Adoption Registry refuses to assist or even respond to my letters. Is there ANYONE on this planet who can help us?
Please. I cannot do this alone.
Help us find her.