Leah Ballantyne was just 11 days old when she was adopted out to a Scottish family in Winnipeg – by the time she was 13, she was already searching for her birth parents.
Riding the bus to school through Winnipeg’s downtown core, she would see Indigenous people and wondered if they were relatives.
“Growing up, I kind of thought, why am I this lone person and adopted into a family? Why didn’t my family want me and what were the circumstances? And as I learned that the ‘60s Scoop was actually a part of a process that started with reservations, and the Indian Act, and residential schools, and day schools,” she says on the latest episode of Face to Face.
“Then I realized that I was part of something that was a separation that was going on through government policy.”
The push to finally find out where she came from came after an event in Vancouver.
She says she was inspired by speeches by former Assembly of First Nations national chief Ovide Mercredi and Mohawk Council of Kahnawake grand chief Joe Tokwiro Norton
After, she went digging into her past.
Ballantyne’s birth mother had registered her for a status number at birth so she knew she was from Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. She wrote the chief at the time, the late Pascal Bighetty, asking for help.
Not long after, Ballantyne received a call from Bighetty, who, as it would turn out, was her uncle, telling her he knew who she was and to come home.
Advocating for her community
Ballantyne says the rally and reunification with her community, a “light went on” and she decided she would push for positive changes in law and policy by becoming a lawyer.
To this day, Ballantyne remains the only member of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation to become a lawyer. She is currently working with her nation on child welfare laws and bringing children home, whether they were part of the 60s Scoop, aged out of the care, or still in care.
Ballantyne is vocal about representation and believes those who falsely claim Indigenous identity, should face criminal charges.
“There is a couple of sections in the Criminal Code of Canada for identity and identity fraud and so Indigenous identity fraud is very much a charge that could be laid by any institution that has addressed this kind of issue and people that are claiming false Indigenous identity,” she says.
“And there is no statute of limitation on this type of identity fraud within the Criminal Code.”
Ballantyne recently attended the 64th Annual Grammy Awards in Las Vegas as a guest of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, mezzo soprano and former Face to Face guest, Rhonda Head.
The highlight of the night was walking the red carpet where Ballantyne, Head, and friend Jennifer Flett, made a statement.
“Rhonda didn’t tell us, but she had brought a flag with Every Child Matters, so, when we got on the red carpet, she shuffled me in the middle and Jennifer to the right and unfurled the flag,” says Ballantyne.
“We were in a room with thousands of people and lots of chatter and when that flag unfurled, and we held in for that photo that went viral, you could of heard a pin drop in that room and it was incredible.”
The photo of the three of them with the flag would be shared thousands of times and generate numerous news stories.
Ballantyne says it was a really “powerful, wonderful moment.”