An Interview with Allyson Stevenson, the recipient of the 2016 Arrell M. Gibson Award

October 25, 2016

An interview with Allyson Stevenson, author of “The Adoption of Frances T: Blood, Belonging, and Aboriginal Transracial Adoption in Twentieth-Century Canada.” For excellence in Native American History, this article was given the 2016 Arrell M. Gibson Award from the Western Historical Association. Stevenson’s article appeared in the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire, and the following exchange is an email conversation between her and the journal. Click to read her article for free for a limited time.

Allyson-0039

Q: In “The Adoption of Frances T” you write about an adoption case from 1937. What made this adoption special?

A: I came across this particular case while I was undertaking research at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa for my dissertation on Aboriginal transracial adoption in Saskatchewan. I was interested in excavating the origins of what is now known as the Sixties Scoop and was reading widely in the archives on anything remotely connected to Indigenous peoples and adoption. This file of correspondence caught my attention initially because it was a large file devoted specifically to this one case, with a great deal of high level bureaucrats discussing it. It wasn’t an actual adoption case file. I didn’t understand the significance of the Frances T. adoption until I began to look at the changes that took place in the wording in the Indian Act in 1951, as well as develop a more critical understanding of the historical context. In piecing together this case, I was interested in connecting the ways in which Indian Act legislation operated to disinherit Indigenous peoples, and how it was very intentionally remade to ensure adoption became a method of elimination. I wanted to make very clear the ways in which adoption primarily came to operate as a unilateral method of displacing Indigenous children rather than caring for Indigenous children.

Q: Since the events you studied were in the recent past, what sort of considerations did you take to living relatives?

A: I was very mindful that the information I had in front of me did not come from the family or individuals involved, and thus I had not obtained permission to share critical pieces of the story. I felt that the obligation I had as an ethical researcher was to ensure that the privacy of the family was protected to the best of my ability by removing last names and identifying types of information. However, the public servants and government officials’ names in the documents I felt were appropriate to include since their public role was understood. In a democratic society, processes such as this should remain transparent and open to critique.

Q: As a Historian of Canadian Indigenous History, how much do the events of the present—for example the recently published Truth and Reconciliation Report—motivate you to study the past?

A: My interest in Indigenous histories predates the release of the TRC report, but I am certainly supportive of and encouraged by the TRC final report. From a very young age, I have been deeply interested in the histories of Canada/Turtle Island. As a Métis adoptee, my interest in the topics of adoption and Indigenous histories are very personal as well. I have always been a person who has asked vexing questions and never settled for the standard answers. What has motivated me to study the past is that I am very unsatisfied with the present. I began to study Prairie colonialism in earnest when as an undergraduate in Regina, Pamela George a Cree nehiyaw iskwew was killed by two upper middle class peers: “Pamela Jean George of the Sakimay First Nation was found face down in a ditch west of the city of Regina on the morning of April 18, 1995.” I was in my first year of university. This deeply affected me and challenged me to grapple with what I now understand to be settler colonialism. I am committed to making explicit the oppression of Indigenous women and children through legislation and discourses around Indigenous families and gender.

Q: How does your research impact those who are currently examining the Sixties Scoop, whether they are political scientists, fellow historians, or those personally affected?

A: My intention is to enlarge our understanding of the Sixties Scoop, and dismantle over-representation discourses that still operate today. With the Frances T. case, I want to disrupt the common sense understanding that has been fed to the Canadian public continually since at the very least 1960s that we as Indigenous people do not care for our children, and are unwilling to adopt children. This case clearly demonstrates that some Indian people did adopt children, and rather it was government officials who were in opposition. For families who have been impacted by the Sixties Scoop, my goal is for people to understand the larger historical context of why these policies arose.

Q: What would you say to current students who are considering studying Indigenous or Native American History?

I love teaching Indigenous histories, especially when I see the passion for justice ignite in students, whether young or old. In the present moment, we are witnessing an unprecedented openness for cross-cultural understanding. I would say be open, and be fearless. This country needs each one of you right now. I received encouragement at a critical time in my life, which led me on my current path. You will never regret studying Indigenous histories. You will come to know this place, and know yourself as well.


In celebration of Stevenson’s excellent work, “The Adoption of Frances T: Blood, Belonging, and Aboriginal Transracial Adoption in Twentieth-Century Canada” is free to read for a limited time. Click here to read the article on CJH Online – http://bit.ly/CJH503d

Share this post
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someonePrint this pageShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: