Cameron Parenteau-Catcheway’s Story

*Trigger Warning*

Cameron Parenteau-Catcheway

I was adopted out in 1978 to a white Christian family.  We lived the life of a perfect family, but in secret we were being abused.  For 10 long years, until a sister ran away and the authorities were called.  Then we were split up and the journey began to find myself, my birth family etc.  I wrote about my experiences in STOLEN GENERATIONS BOOK OF VOICES in 2003 Wpg, Mb.

Looking back, over the years, and starting back at the beginning to my childhood, I see a lot of trauma.  We did not use those words in those days, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Now, I can see, that I experienced a lot of that, without knowing, but I can see the signs.  Yes, I am a survivor of one of the most terrible times in Canadian History: The Sixties Scoop.

My father came from the Metis community of Duck Bay, with family affiliations with Pine Creek First Nation.  He was born in 1952 to a 16 year old mother, but was raised by his grandfather, when his mother had to stay at the Ninette Sanitorium for TB.  He married my mother, who was from Skownan First Nation.  She was born in 1954, a twin.  As a child, she experienced neglect, saw her mother drinking, from what relations have told me, and what I have gathered thru the years.

They were both young people, and they had 3 of us: Gordon in 1971, myself in 1972 and Janey in 1973.  At some point their relationship broke up.  I have heard stories but not sure what to believe, and since I have no actual memory of my father with my mother, I cannot add anything.

My mother then met a man, a Metis man who had blue eyes, was muscular, and played in a band.  They began their relationship, and a daughter in 1975, named Debbie was born.

I remember one night, he came home drunk, with a case of beer.  And he was loud and yelling.  He wanted my mother to drink but she didn’t want to.  I peeked from my bedroom, down the hallway and I saw my mother crying, as he hit her with the belt repeatedly.  There was broken beer bottles all over the place, that he had thrown.  She saw me, and called out to me, “Cameron, come help me!”  Ashamedly, I slunk back into my room and hid under the bed.  I did not want him to come and get me, and beat me.  I was abt 4 years of age.

I remember we did not have food.  So I would walk around looking for food.  In garbage bins, on the ground etc.  I would scavenge around looking for scraps.  Even walking into other people’s places, and opening their fridge to make a lard or cheeze whiz sandwhich.  One time, I took a little container of bingo chips to a corner grocery store by Logan Ave and the bridge by Dufferin School, and wanted to buy something at the store.  I was very hungry and thin.  He apologized but said that was not money, so I cried and walked out of the store.

I learned to take care of my younger sisters, playing with them, changing their diapers, keeping them out of the way.  I became a little caregiver at such a young age.  That role kind of stayed with me thru the rest of my life.

We were aprehended by Children’s Aid of Winnipeg in 1976.  I remember being in a few foster homes during that period and for the next few years, and it was a terrifying time.  Just getting settled into one home, and it’s routines and then being ripped away to be moved to another home.  Scars that never healed.

I remember one time, walking far away from one foster home, and I don’t know if I got lost, or if I was trying to run away, but the police came and found me and took me back!

Looking back at the document that Children’s Aid gave me (as a grown up), we were sent back to our mother’s and lived there for a period of time, until we were once again aprehended.  This went on until 1978, when we were made permanent wards of the province.

I didn’t know it at that time, but we were moved into a Metis couple’s foster home, and they were distant relations to my father.  This is the place I can vividly remember.  We were clothed decently and fed here well.  I grew to become very fond of my foster mother and grew close to her.

During this time, I attended school at Dufferin Elementary School, and met a resource teacher.  I loved being around her.  She dressed beautifully, she smelled beautiful with perfume, she wore makeup and wore jangly jewelry.  She found out I was in a foster home, and was going to be put up for adoption.  So she and her husband decided that I would be their son.

On November 29, 1978, I moved into their new home in a new area, just off Henderson Highway.  It was a beautiful stylish home, just the perfect size for three.  I enjoyed spending time with my new parents.

By June 1979, two more sisters arrived into our home, they being Janey and Debbie (another sister Sonya had been born, but she had been adopted out to another family in northern Manitoba, and my older brother Gordon too had been adopted overseas).

The first act of violence in that home, happened in the summer of 1979.  My two younger sisters slept in the basement, in an area that was fashioned into a bedroom (as it was an unfinished basement then).  They had been goofing around and not going to sleep and Dad came down and started yelling at them.  He threw a toy dog at one of them, and the plastic barrel on the dog’s neck split open and it cut my sister by her eye.  She was taken to the Hospital for stitches, but was told that she had been goofing around with her sister and got hurt.  And so the lies and secrecy began.

To outsiders, we had it all.  A nice home.  Trips all across Canada and the USA.  Dad was a Foreman in a Clothing Factory.  Mom was a Teacher.  Mom and Dad were heavily involved with the Church.  They taught a Sunday School Class of Mentally Handicapped persons.  They assisted in preparing the monthly Communion.  Dad and Mom were on the Missions Board (they being former missionaries in Niamey, Niger in 1974-1976).  Mom was in the Choir, the Women’s Prayer Line.  So they were well known and appreciated by all.

The violence went on in secret.  I remember one time, my sister and I, had taken candy from Mom’s closet in her bedroom, and as punishment, our Dad put human feces all over our faces and we were made to kneel on newspaper covered ground in front of our floor to ceiling mirror, and look at ourselves and chant out.

Another time, to punish me, for dirty underwear, at grade three, I was forced to drink my own urine.
One time, my sister was tied to the stairwell in the basement while my parents went out, to punish her.

Another frequent punishment, was to be made to stand in a corner, raise both hands over our heads, and lift up one leg, and balance there for as long as Dad said.  It could be for 10 minutes, or half an hour, or an hour, or even longer.  If we faltered, he came over and slapped us on the head.

Another punishment, to find out which of us committed the offence, we were lined up, and we had to hold out our hands (and roll up our sleeves).  Dad would ask us a question, “Who did…enter the offence here…? and if he did not like the answer, we would be strapped on both our arms and hands with the belt.  And this could go on and on, until our hands would be tired, and puffy and bruised.  Of course we knew, the next day, when we were dressing for school to put on long sleeved shirts or sweaters.

We regularily walked on eggshells at home.  It was like a minefield.  Sometimes, life at home would be decent, but for how long?  The waiting was torture, as Dad would try to change a new leaf, and promise not to hit us anymore.  Something would happen and set him off, and that look in his eyes, I would see rage and anger!  And there was no stopping him.

Dad was not an alcoholic, as he had known and experienced his own father’s alcoholic-fueled beatings, many a time in his own childhood.  So he did not compare himself to his own father’s ways.  But I learned later on that Dad had an Alcoholic Personality.

When I was 15, I remember being severely beaten up by Dad, and I had just come home from winning a Volleyball tournament that our private school Calvin Christian School had won.  I had thought, finally he could be proud of me.  But of course, he was angry with me, for not keeping the basement clean, while the last few months of staying after school for practice and such.  He began to punch and hit me, all over my body.  Screaming and yelling at me.  He took his metre stick and began to hit me with it.  Finally he left me alone and went upstairs, while I cleaned the basement quickly so he would not come downstairs.

I went to my bedroom, and my body was hurting from where I knew bruises would be.  Of course, I was pretty much hit in areas where no one would see.  Mom came down to ask me what had happened. Of course I minimized it, and said, “Oh Dad got a bit mad, because it was messy downstairs,” and she said, “Oh he’s sorry for what he did.”  She prayed for me and kissed me and went back upstairs.  But as I lay there, I began to cry softly, and prayed to God, to ask me to take me home that night, that I could not take it anymore.  It was too much.

There is not enough time to write, all the acts of violence we experienced, emotional, physical, pyschological.
But I also have to add, we did have some good moments, mixed in with this.  I am not sure if I thought this was normal, or how I percieved other families to be, and what maybe they went thru.  But I think I knew, we were alone in what we went thru.   But we were taught in our adopted home, that this was “discipline” and that we asked for it.  If we had been good, we would not have been punished.

Finally it all came to an end in October of 1988.  Mom was away on a business trip in Saskatchewan and Dad was watching the 5 of us kids (two more of their own kids were born in 1982 and 1985).  Dad beat up my sister for being late from after school.  So she left.  She was not going to take it anymore.  Long story short, the authorities were called, and an investigation was done.  Social Workers were brought in, Police too.

Dad was asked to leave the home.  Eventually he served some jail time, and on the Jan 12, 1990 Winnipeg Free Press put on the front page, “Ex Missionary wiped feces on daughter’s face, court told.”

During this time, it was a very dark and dreary time for me.  I tried to fit into school, but who wanted an Indian for a friend.  I was teased and made fun of, and bullied.  I hated being an Indian.  Where did I belong?

Our adopted mother moved us out of province to her family in Saskatchewan.  I had a lot of mixed feelings about her, that I did not really know I had.  We would get into arguments, and days of not talking to each other.  Finally she moved to Alberta, and left me in Saskatchewan to start my own life as a 19 year old.

As for my birth family, we had found out in January 1989, that our birth mother Florence had died in Nov 27, 1987 and buried on the Waterhen Reserve.  She had passed away at age 33 of lung cancer.  It was a devestating blow and one that crippled me for years.  I had no desire to look for anyone else, as she was the one that meant so much to me, and the one I remembered with fondness.

I went thru my 20’s and 30’s feeling very lonely.  Finally in 1994, I decided to reunite with my birth family in Winnipeg.  And I lived with them for about 5 months.  But I could not fit in.  I still did not belong.  I had so many questions, but not many people would answer.

I did not realize I had a lot of anger towards my adopted mother, but I did.  This did not come boiling up until 2008 over something trivial.  So I cut her out of my life for 12 months.  I just felt that the past was shoved aside and swept under a carpet.  If I ever brought something up, she would say, she could not talk about it, as she was on anti-depressants, and she would just start to cry.  That made me livid, because I thought, I was the ONE who went thru the abuse, not you!  And it made me feel de-valued as a person, like who cared about what I went thru.

After a year of not talking, we started to talk via email.  I told her I needed to have a forum to talk about the past.  That I needed to heal and move on from this.

She agreed.  We met for a 7 hour session, where we talked about some of the “taboo” stuff.  There was lots of tears, and crying, but also laughter.  The turning point for me, was when she was weeping, and she cried out, “Cameron, I am sorry I did not protect you as I should have!”  That rage and anger in me dwindled to nothing.  4 years have come and gone and I have never had an issue with her again, because I had a chance to talk about it and resolve it.  She had the chance to apologize to me, and she gave me the chance to talk about anything that bothered me regarding those years!
I have not had anything to do with my adopted Dad since Dec 1990, when I went to visit him.  He still believes he did nothing wrong and that I am to come to him, like the story of the Prodigal son in the Bible.

I move around a lot!  It angers a lot of my relations and friends.  They do not understand that I keep searching for a safe place, a place I can lay my head down, on my own terms.  I just keep on looking.

I believe in God.  I believe He brought me thru these things, to strengthen me.  I have had many opportunities to share my story, my testimony to anyone who would listen.  I have tried to share my love with others, exposing my own weakness.

As for connecting with my community, I have healed by finding out where I come from.  My people’s people.  Genealogy was something that became a passion.  My form of art.  And so I try and help those I can, find their families, where they come from etc.

I have come a long way.  Now, I am trying to enjoy a peaceful existence!  Creating my own rules, for my own world.  Enjoying simple things that life passes my way.  I have such moments of laughter and joy!  Now, I help foster families, taking care of foster kids, taking them on outings etc.  I have come full circle!