Missing or Deceased Aboriginal Children | “You didn’t forget”

Thanks to the passing of a new regional law, families are beginning to gather information about the disappearance or death of Aboriginal children.

Posted at 5:00 am

Text: Fanny Levesque

Text: Fanny Levesque
Journalism

Photos: Oliver Jan

Photos: Oliver Jan
Journalism

(Roberval) Agatha Awashish touches her heart and breathes a few words into Atikamiko. “She says she feels light here,” her daughter Chantal translates, showing in turn the middle of her chest.

At the age of 81, the eldest of the aborigines finally discovers the beginning of the truth regarding the birth of her son Joseph, born in Amos Hospital, in 1961. The stooges have just obtained the first official documents, and partly takes off the veil according to the circumstances. The birth of a young child and his last moments.

The Opiticiwan family in Haute-Mauricie is one of the first to search for some answers in the shadow of the new A law that allows personal information to be passed on to families of Aboriginal children who have disappeared or died after entering an institutionwhich entered into force in September. It will only take six months to find the pieces of the unfinished puzzle haunting M.me Awashish for 60 years.


Photo by Oliver Jane, Press

Chantelle Awash and her mother, Agathe

“She never forgot,” Chantale drops pinned near her mother. In her rocking chair, the elder nodded. Agatha bore her ears, and rode the train from the camp of Oskelanio Forest, south of Opethiwan, where her husband was a lumberjack, to give birth to their second child, at Amos. It was the summer of 1961. She doesn’t know the date.

She gives birth during the night, but she will leave with empty arms. That’s all you will know. He was going to explain to her that her baby died the morning after her baby was born. She, who did not understand French, was unable to hug her child or see her little relic.


Photo by Oliver Jane, Press

Agatha Awashish

The image of a nurse carrying a coffin down the hospital hall will return to him. Was her baby inside? How did Joseph die? Where was his body buried? You won’t know until today and again. The picture is not complete. “The only memory she has of her baby is her crying,” Chantelle Awash calmly sums up.

One case among many others

At least 200 indigenous children are said to have disappeared or died after being admitted to health facilities in Quebec, according to the latest estimates. Cases were reported from the 1940s to the end of the 1970s.


Photo by Oliver Jane, Press

Agatha Awashish

The story is almost always the same: a child gets sick and is sent outside the community for treatment and never comes back. Families were left in complete darkness. In the case of newborns, the parents were informed of the death without being able to see the body, like Joseph.

The law (Bill 79) now allows family members to access personal information “that is likely to reveal the circumstances surrounding the disappearance or death of an Aboriginal child.” This means that a brother or sister can request access to a missing child’s medical file, for example, which was not possible before. This is what Chantelle Aouche did on her mother’s behalf to help her find the truth.

Quebec has also established the Department of Family Support, a small team that accompanies and supports families in their research. The work is also being carried out in collaboration with the Awacak Group, an organization of many bereaved families, with the support of the Special Counsel, former journalist Anne Panasuk. And following the press investigations conducted by the latter, in 2017, Agatha Awash first opened up about the circumstances of Joseph’s birth.

“She was silent for years in her pain,” says Chantal, who only learned of her brother’s existence at this time. “After that, I never gave up. I made file requests, but nothing was moving,” recalls Atticamko, who is also involved in Oagak.

[Quand la loi est entrée en vigueur]At first, I asked if they wanted us to take my mother’s file. They know she is old and sick.

Chantelle Awashish


Photo by Oliver Jane, Press

Agathe Awash and her daughter Susan

The father of the Awashish family, who had seven children, died in 2004 without knowing what happened to Youssef. My father, when he heard the train whistle, went to the station to welcome my mother. When I went down, she did not have a child … For a long time I imagined the faces of my father and mother at that moment. They suffered a lot and I understood this suffering later,” their daughter says.

“A step towards recovery”

In September, Chantal Awash completed the official documentation to start the search. Despite some setbacks – his mother’s medical file remains untraceable – teams get their hands on medical records targeting Joseph. According to the birth registry at the Hôtel-Dieu d’Amos, Joseph Aouche was born on August 11, 1961 at 2:30 AM.


Photo by Oliver Jane, Press

Chantelle Awashish

My mother now knows the date of her son’s birth. Just getting the appointment is already a step toward recovery.

Chantelle Awashish

when the information was sent to mr.me Awash was especially emotionally charged. There was relief but also sadness. The Minister in charge of Aboriginal Affairs, Ian Lavrinier, was invited to attend this very intimate engagement, almost. “It was very moving,” he said in an interview at the request of Journalism. “It was heartbreaking because on the one hand, you are happy that there is a tangible result thanks to the law, but at the same time, as a society, it just hits in the face that this woman, this mother over there, has waited 60 years for such basic answers. Inconceivable” The minister continues.


Photo by Bernard Brault, press archives

Ian Lavrinier, Minister Responsible for Indigenous Affairs

The Secretariat for Indigenous Affairs’ Family Support Department is currently working with 36 families to clarify the circumstances of the death or disappearance of 58 children. In the legislative text, the Minister was to submit a first report on the implementation of the law by March 31, 2022. Mr. Lavrinier emphasized that the submission should take place by the end of April and that the Government wished to do so in the community. .

Pending questions

But discovering preliminary information about Joseph Awash also brings with it his share of questions. According to the documents found, the state of health of the newborn rapidly deteriorated. He was found to have a congenital heart defect and died shortly thereafter. No autopsy will be performed. Ongoing search by the Department of Family Support leads to the Roy Christ parish archive in Amos, which confirms that the body of the young child was buried in the cemetery of the place, on August 12, 1961. Amos Cemetery recently confirmed the existence of a tomb in which Aboriginal children who died between 1950 and 1976 were buried. But despite this assertion, Joseph Awash’s name does not appear in the records.


Photo by Oliver Jane, Press

Chantelle Awashish

“Me, I still have a question mark […] Is he really dead? Chantel asks. He also doubted the sanity of his mother, who had never seen her son’s body. This is a legitimate concern because Youssef’s death comes as the “scoop of the 1960s” rages in the West. In an interview with Journalism en septembre, l’avocat Alain Arsenault, qui est conseiller juridique pour Awacak, a rapporté que dans certains dossiers, « des indices laissent croire » effectivement au même modus operandi que lors de cette rafle oùta des enfantsé adoptés in the United States of America.

The Quebec-Quebec Supplementary Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada also addresses this issue. “Witnesses are convinced that the children were taken for medical experiments or sold to non-citizen families.”


Photo by Oliver Jane, Press

Agatha Awashish

“We continue, we want to go further,” says Mme Ashish. The search is not yet complete in Joseph’s case, although collaboration with the Family Support Department continues.

The family is also considering applying for an exhumation if they get confirmation of the exact location where young Yusef is buried. The law states that the minister can accompany the family in their “steps surrounding an application to the Supreme Court to order an exhumation.”

Meanwhile, when the snow is gone, Chantal promises to take her mother to the tomb of Amos. The Awash clan will also celebrate Joseph’s birthday for the first time this year.

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