A family forms on screen

Betty Ann Adam, second from right, with her siblings Esther, Rose and Ben during the filming of Birth of a Family. Photo courtesy Tasha Hubbard/National Film Board

Betty Ann Adam is good at keeping secrets. Raised just outside Prince Albert, she’s now a journalist with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Again and again, her fellow reporters pressed her to tell her family’s story.

Through decades, Adam kept her story safe.

But now it’s coming to a Prince Albert movie screen. Birth of a Family follows four Indigenous siblings taken from their mother in the 1960’s – and captures their first steps toward becoming a family.

It’s a story with a powerful message for all Canadians, a story of loss, identity and bonds that never break. Adam is one of the 20,000 or so survivors of the Sixties Scoop, a series of policies where social workers stripped Indigenous children from their parents and sent most to live with white families.

Adam spent years tracking down her two sisters, Rose and Esther, and her brother, Ben. They all grew up in different families, scattered across the western half of North America. Finally, they were due to meet in Banff. Adam thought it was important to document the experience – both to educate the mainstream public and to help her fellow survivors find a way to healing.

“I hope they will find that this story gives voice to their experiences,” she said.

But Adam isn’t a director, and she felt too involved to “do the story justice.” So she turned to Tasha Hubbard, an Aboriginal filmmaker who’d also been placed with a non-Indigenous family. Both went to Carlton Comprehensive High School in Prince Albert. Their common paths helped Hubbard empathize with Adam and her siblings.

“I met my siblings when I was a young adult,” Hubbard said. “So I understand it’s such a strange feeling to see someone across the table, with your same facial expressions and hand gestures, and to not have a shared history.”

Hubbard brought a stand-back, observational style to the film. She said she wanted to make the audience feel like they are “there by invitation.”

“I think we’re so used to a form of television where the viewer has an all-access pass,” she said, “but I think in a case like this, where it’s a sensitive story, I feel we need to earn that.”

This was, after all, an intensely personal experience for Adam and her siblings. Hubbard said she didn’t want to get in the way. Adam had waited decades for that moment in the Calgary airport, when she saw her three siblings together for the first time.

“It was extremely joyful and satisfying,” Adam said. “I had dreamed of that very event since I was 19, when I first found out the names and birth dates of my siblings.”

Hubbard’s documentary follows the siblings as they learn to be a family. It happens fast, punctuated by hugs, tears, photo albums and a cake with far too many candles. It’s also full of hard conversations, the kinds of conversations Canada needs to hear first hand.

Birth of a Family is showing at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library on November 9 at 7 p.m. Adam said she intends to come back to P.A. to share the experience.

For more on this story, see the Tuesday, November 7 print or e-edition of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.