Campbell journeyed from 60s Scoop to top Indigenous university advocate
- Betty Ann Adam | October 08, 2021
As a Sixties Scoop kid, Lori Campbell, the University of Regina’s new Associate Vice President (Indigenous Engagement), grew up with no knowledge of who she was or of her family.
Apprehended at 14 months and adopted into a rural white family at age two, she learned she was Indigenous but didn’t learn positive things about what that meant.
“When I was growing up, I had been led to believe that Indigenous peoples didn’t really have much of a future and couldn’t really succeed in school and things like that,” she said in a recent interview.
After high school she moved to Regina, the place of her birth.
“When I hit 18, I started searching for my family and spent the better part of 25 years, essentially my whole adult life, doing that. I found my mom when I was 27, then it took me another 15, 16 years to find all my siblings because there were six of us spread out across a few provinces,” she said.
Over the years, as she searched for her siblings, Campbell got to know her mother and her kin. She is a member of Montreal Lake Cree Nation and has done her best to make connections with her relations. She is also learning to speak Cree.
As she found her siblings she discovered, “It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. That’s the impact of colonization,” she said.
She has met them all but they haven’t all met each other and none of the others has met their mother.
She found the last missing brother about six years ago in Ontario.
“He’s the one closest in age to me and he’d been adopted twice, name changed twice and moved throughout three different provinces.”
Campbell says she feels fortunate to have found her mother when she was young and matured with the benefit of family connections.
“To wait another 15 years and go down that road of feeling so lost and disconnected, things could have been very different for me.”
Fortunately, Campbell used basketball as incentive to get herself to the University of Regina after high school. There, she discovered the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, now known as First Nations University of Canada.
“That profoundly impacted where I am today… When I walked in there, everything started to change,” she said.
After 16 years, she was among Indigenous professors who knew about the children who had been taken.
“We had all grown up, we didn’t know there were thousands of us out there that had been taken in the same way.”
She took a degree in Indian Studies and came to understand, “that the negative stereotypes, that I’d been taught were cultural traits, were actually the behaviours and traumas coming out from the impact of what had happened in our lives and it was very different from the culture and the language and all the beautiful things that our people are.”
She also took a B.A. in psychology and a Masters in Adult Education, in which she focused on the lived experience of her birth mother.
Campbell loves education and is inspired by Indigenous scholars. She is driven to make a positive impact on education for Indigenous students.
Four years ago, she moved to Ontario be near her brother and his children. When she returned for the new job, she brought her niece, who became the first grandchild her mother got to meet.
While in Ontario, Campbell did her Ph.D, which discusses the rise of Indigenous women into new senior administrative roles in universities.
She recognizes the work done by Indigenous students and academics before her that has advanced Indigenous people at the university.
She also identifies as two-spirit because she remembers what it felt like to feel isolated and wants others to know they’re not alone.
Campbell says her new role is about creating, “space and place for Indigenous people to be, what I call, unapologetically Indigenous in thought practice and research on campus.”
“Moving away from colonial ideas is central… realizing that Indigeneity exists outside of and predates colonial ideas and philosophies in post-secondary. So how do I support that through systems change?”
First, she wants to see Indigenous faculty at all the tables where decisions are made that effect all people in the university, not just at the committees addressing what are perceived as Indigenous issues.
Also, she notes that Indigenous faculty responsibility to community looks different from their peers, so if institutions are hiring them to Indigenize the institution, then it must provide merit increases to recognize the different ways Indigenous faculty fulfill their roles.
“If the policy didn’t include these sorts of things, we need to go back and change that so it does reflect what we say we value.”
“These institutions are fundamentally born out of a colonial idea and it’s about trying to find the cracks where we can have impact and make changes.”