Aunt and niece unite after searching for each other on opposite sides of the world

Kim Thomas-Jones (left) and Erin Parenteau (right) found each other through Ancestry DNA. Thomas-Jones came to Prince Albert last month to learn about her Indigenous roots and is planning to come back in the summer. (Erin Parenteau/Facebook)

“How painful it must have been for you to not be able to keep me when you were 19 years old,” wrote Kim Thomas-Jones in a letter to her mother

A Prince Albert woman says she’s no longer carrying the weight of “a lonely feeling.”

Erin Parenteau was left with few biological family members after many of her close relatives passed away — including her grandmother who raised her—but she always knew she had an aunt out there somewhere. Her name was Kim, but that and the general timeframe she was born was all of the details she had.

Kim Thomas-Jones, born Kimberley Settee, was only six months old when social services took her away from her Cree family as part of the Sixties Scoop. Over 20,000 Indigenous children across Canada were ‘scooped’ and placed in non-Indigenous homes from the late 1950s to 80s.

Thomas-Jones was born in Prince Albert, but her family was living in Tweedsmuir at the time, which is about 50 kilometres north of the city.

“My grandmother, her mother, she raised me from the time I was just a baby,” explained Parenteau. “My mom and my grandmother and my grandma’s sister, who I called an aunt, passed away.”

“I felt like I was by myself, I had no more relatives. The search for her became more important.”

The two were united on Nov. 9. Parenteau found out that all that time Thomas-Jones had been looking for her, too—all the way from the United Kingdom.

Pictured is Erin Parenteau’s mother (Kim Thomas-Jones’ only sister) and grandma (Thomas-Jones’ biological mother). “These two will be smiling down from the heaven’s over the next two weeks,” wrote Parenteau in a Facebook post the day before she met Thomas-Jones. (Erin Parenteau/Facebook)

The DNA test

According to Parenteau, all Thomas-Jones physically had from her Indigenous roots was a pair of moccasins and a Saskatchewan map. Her adopted parents circled where she was from on the map because they knew it would be important to her.

Parenteau thinks, in some ways, that always made her connected to her homeland.

Kim Thomas-Jones’ adopted parents kept the moccasins she was wearing when social services took her as part of the Sixties Scoop and circled where she was from on a Saskatchewan map. (Bring Kim Home to Canada – 60s Scoop Survivor/GoFundMe)

Thomas-Jones’ adopted parents took her back to Wales in the United Kingdom, where she still lives today with her partner and two sons.

In hopes of finding her biological family, she took an Ancestry DNA test. The results matched her with Parenteau’s cousin and his wife, who reached out to Parenteau saying they found someone in Wales who thought she was her aunt. To Parenteau’s delight, her name was Kim.

“Within minutes I had a message from Kim on my Facebook and as soon as I saw her face, I knew right away that that was my Auntie because she looks just like my mother; she looks just like me,” she said.

“From right there that began our journey to get her home.”

Thomas-Jones also applied for a television show called Long Lost Family, where she wrote a letter dated May 6, 2017 that would be shared with her relatives.

The letter was directed to her mother, who has passed. It started with “I am writing to you as your daughter, Kim. How painful it must have been for you to not be able to keep me when you were 19 years old. I know you had my best interests at heart, and I always hope that your life, after you gave me up, has been happy and that you did not suffer too much.”

Thomas-Jones went on to tell her mother what she knew about her adoption story. She wrote about her two sons Emilio and Noah, questioning whether or not they had similar features like dark eyes and hair.

The letter ended with “The moccasins are all that I have that links me to you. Since I have become a mother I have felt a deep need to search for you, my real mother who gave birth to me, and to know more about you and your life. People have always been intrigued by my looks, asking me where I come from: Hawaii, Spain? Now I need to answer this question for myself and my children.”

“I have always been intrigued by circles. My circle cannot be complete without you.”

Thomas-Jones, Parenteau and their families started saving up money through bake sales and a GoFundMe so Jones could travel to Saskatchewan with her partner and sons. She originally planned to visit in August, but because of passport troubles, the earliest she could come was November.

‘My knees buckled’

Parenteau’s eyes slowly became glazed over with tears when asked what it was like the moment she first saw her Auntie Kim.

“I still get emotional. My knees buckled. I saw her coming and I knew it was her right away. I just sobbed, like loud,” she said.

“It was absolutely life-changing for me. It was healing.”

Posted by Erin Parenteau on Saturday, November 9, 2019
Kim Thomas-Jones and Erin Parenteau break from a hug after meeting in person for the first time at the Saskatoon airport. (Erin Parenteau/Facebook)

The emotion carried on for the next two weeks of Jones’ visit. They bonded over simple, everyday things.

“One of the biggest things for us was just the small things that people take for granted, that a niece and their aunt might take for granted like cooking together, having a coffee together. Just the smallest things mean so much to us because we’ve missed out on all of that,” said Parenteau.

They explored Waskesiu and Tweedsmuir, and Jones was able to hear her Cree language spoken for the first time. But one of the biggest things that stuck out to Jones, as Parenteau interpreted, was that she “fit in.”

“Nobody looks like her where she lives in Wales. There’s no Indigenous Canadians there, so when she came here that was one thing that stood out right away was she said ‘There’s people here who look like me,’” explained Parenteau.

Kim Thomas-Jones (left) and Erin Parenteau (right) during their family reunion this past November. (Erin Parenteau/Facebook)

Parenteau said Thomas-Jones and her family are planning on coming back to Saskatchewan in either July or August. With less activity limitations in the summer months, Parenteau said she plans to take her to a sweat lodge, fishing near Stanley Mission and to visit their late relatives’ graves.

Parenteau is also hoping to teach Jones how to speak Woodland Cree as she relearns herself. Parenteau’s grandmother who raised her, Jones’ biological mother, only spoke to Parenteau in Cree. She lost her native tongue when she started going to school in Prince Albert at five years old.

“I don’t feel lonely anymore even though she’s on the other side of the world. I can FaceTime her anytime, she can FaceTime me anytime. That’s a bond that’s there forever and has been there forever,” said Parenteau.

“We’re just catching up.”