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Revealing identity the long way through adoption

Singer/sonwriter Tom Wilson has been on a six-year journey of discovery after he found out about his Kanien’kehá:ka roots in Kahnawake. (Courtesy John Gilder)

Whatever way an adoption story is told, there’s always the part with isolation and heartbreak, and then the searching, finding and acceptance.

Being a part of a family that takes in foster kids, I have a soft spot for those who are disconnected to their biological families, no matter the reason for their parting.

There are so many different situations and scenarios in adoption and foster care, that there is no way to generalize it.

Tom Wilson – discovering

Singer-songwriter and burgeoning artist Tom Wilson is a man who’s lived his life as a single child believing he was an Irish-Canadian citizen.

“Between two worlds is the way I’ve lived my whole life, I’ve never felt a part of my community in Hamilton,” said Wilson.

Only years ago would he find out that he had six siblings in Kahnawake and a whole culture he would spend his pastime trying to connect to.

Throughout his youth, Bunny Wilson, who he now knows is his great aunt, would answer Tom’s heritage questions with her usual “there are some secrets I’ll bring to the grave,” and left young Thomas wondering who he was, not knowing he was Mohawk-born.

Often he would visit Kahnawake with his adopted parents when he was young, so he was familiar with the community.

“I was always kept indoors, away from the community, almost like a circus freak,” Wilson told The Eastern Door, adding that although his presence was kept hush-hush in Kahnawake, he felt more at home during his visits.

After the years of performing, touring and becoming the artist he aspired to be, Thomas was told whom he thought was his cousin, Janie Lazare, was actually his mom.

And so his adventure began at the age of 53.

All the details are spilled in his memoir, Beautiful Scars.

Tom Wilson’s story charts the artist’s course from Hamilton, Ontario as an “Irish-Canadian” kid to his true roots in Kahnawake. (Courtesy Penguin Random House)

“I got to tell you that the welcoming I’ve had, I’m not sure this kind of welcoming happens in other cultures,” said Wilson.

The usual approach of connecting with family you never knew you had, he said, is to settle with them for a week, show them the tourist spots and then never see them again.

“But in Lynn’s (Beauvais) home, I sit and eat a delicious meal, sit in their living room and talk, then go upstairs and sleep comfortably at home,” said Wilson.

“(Lynn) has really opened up my eyes to the vastness of my family. You have to remember I grew up an only child so the fact that I have all these brothers and sisters is astonishing.”

Wilson doesn’t describe himself or see himself as an artist, but becoming an artist. He told The Eastern Door that discovering his heritage has since changed his art.

“Aesthetically, my art has evolved. It just came out of me, I’m not a mystic magic man, but there are things in my art and in my writing that I really have no accounting for. My culture is coming out of me.”

Wilson has been especially inspired lately, and has created new art pieces that follow the theme of warriors from Kahnawake. The words of his memoir are written within the pieces that are telling a different story for each painting.

Even with all the motivation and encouragement, Wilson is still searching for a way to connect and unite with the culture he’s been separated from almost his entire life.

“There’s an entire world that I don’t feel that I’m in,” Wilson said. “I can’t catch up with the life that my brothers lived, I can’t catch up with fighting in the Oka Crisis, I can’t catch up with clearing the debris on ground zero when the twin towers fell.”

With a couple puzzle pieces missing from his person, Wilson feels he is going to be taking his journey to the end of his days, and is exhilarated about it. He believes there is no rush to exploring and getting familiar with a way of life.

“I’m going to find my own way to my culture, I going to find it in my art,” said Wilson. “I have to find my way into my culture, I have to do things in my own way to open up the door and welcome my culture to me.”

Lillian Chevrier – Dealing

Lillian Chevrier, a half Inuit, half French student, was born with the name Putulik Pinutinut, from a reserve she was never told the name of.

“I was taken away from my biological parents at three months old, when my biological mother left me alone to go to the bar,” said Chevrier.

She moved through three different foster homes and then a group home before she was adopted by the family who raised her.

“I was told I was originally supposed to be adopted by an Inuit family but it turned out to not be a good match,” said Chevrier.

She only has distant memories of the homes she passed though before her adoption.

Chevrier’s story is different than Wilson’s in the sense that she was aware she was being adopted.

“I remember my parents talking to my caregivers while I was sitting on the stairs with my brothers, showing them colouring books,” said Chevrier.

She carried the weight of her missing biological parents throughout her youth. “I carry my past with pride, it’s allowed me to show that there is more than where I came from. But it also comes with challenges, I grew up with health issues and still do,” she said.

“I was diagnosed with manic depression, moderate anxiety and panic attacks this past year because I tried my best to avoid talking about it for years and didn’t get the help I needed.”

She describes her first year of CEGEP as “extremely suicidal,” but has come a long way from that and “don’t lie to myself about my mental health anymore,” she said.

Chevrier lived in a predominantly white community, so she wasn’t able to connect with any local Indigenous peoples, and that left her feeling like a black sheep.

There were no resources to allow her to become comfortable looking in the mirror. “I don’t know how to identify myself without judgment,” said Chevrier.

Chevrier’s father passed away a couple of years ago due to a drug overdose, so there isn’t a way to reconnect with him, but she still hopes to reconnect with her community.

“From what I’m aware of, I was an only child and my biological mother didn’t have any other children after me,” said Chevrier. “I would want to visit and reconnect, but I wouldn’t reconnect with my biological mother.”

Although Chevrier was given a sorrowful hand at life at such a young age, she couldn’t have asked for a better home to be raised in.

“I grew up with the mindset that family doesn’t have to be blood, but the people who love you and care for you no matter what,” said Chevrier. “Being a part of the Dawson Indigenous Centre and now the JAC (John Abbott College) Indigenous Centre has helped me come a long way from where I was three years ago.”

Knowing that others have gone through a similar experience, and have felt the same feelings, is encouraging for those who are afraid to speak up and tell their story.

“Adoption stories run through every table in this room, everywhere you go there’s adoption stories and skeletons in the closet,” said Wilson on whether he thinks it’s important for people to know his story.

“I can’t tell your story, I can’t tell Lynn’s story, I can only tell my story.”

“Take your time,” he said. “You don’t go rushing into a burning building.”

“Don’t be ashamed of your past, you had no control of what happened,” said Chevrier.

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