A Life's Story

March 06, 2021

Fighting, loving through tragedy

Carla Williams-Prince, 55, was '60s Scoop survivor turned activist

By: Kevin Rollason

Carla Nadine Williams-Prince’s childhood horrors may have marked her life and sparked her activism, but they didn’t stop her from enjoying life to its fullest and loving those around her.

Williams-Prince, who died in May at age 55 after a fight with cancer, was a survivor of the ’60s Scoop — a time when Indigenous children were taken from their parents and home communities into the child welfare system, and raised by mostly non-Indigenous families in Canada, the United States, and, in her case, the Netherlands.

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Carla Williams-Prince</p>

SUPPLIED

Carla Williams-Prince

"She was a very loving and caring person, despite what she had to embrace during her life," said her husband Tommy Prince, son of the decorated Canadian war veteran.

"She lost our culture. She was taken away. But despite her troublesome life, she was a very strong and loving person. She passed away at home and, before she passed, she made peace with the good Lord."

The two were together for about 13 years before getting married Jan. 29, 2020, less than four months before she died. "It was one of her dying wishes," he said.

It is estimated Manitoba had about 3,400 Indigenous children scooped from their families between 1971 and 1981, with as many as 80 per cent going to non-Indigenous homes. A federal report said more than 11,000 children across the country were adopted between 1960 and 1990; though many believe the true number is more than 20,000.

Williams-Prince was born to Carl Edwards and Evelyn Myrtle at Fisher River Cree Nation in 1965. She was only five when she and her sister were taken from the family. Her dad later died by suicide; her mother died of an overdose.

She took her last name, Williams, from her grandparents.

David Rabinovitch, a filmmaker who has been attempting a documentary about her life since he met her shortly after she returned to Canada in the 1980s, said Williams-Prince was first placed with a couple near Petersfield.

<p>SUPPLIED</p></p><p>Carla Williams-Prince</p>

SUPPLIED

Carla Williams-Prince

"I visited with them," he said. "She had a happy childhood at that point. They wanted to adopt her, but said (child and family) services had already set up an adoption."

Williams-Prince was adopted by a Dutch doctor living in Winnipeg who, shortly after, with his wife and two daughters, moved back to the Netherlands. Later in life, she said the Dutch couple paid $6,400 to adopt her.

Rabinovitch said the family never told her about her heritage or ethnicity. "They said you’re not an Indian. You’re from Indonesia, they would say."

When Williams-Prince was 13, her adoptive father sexually assaulted her, leaving her pregnant. The baby was taken away for adoption and the mother sent to a home for troubled teenagers.

(Prince said his wife told him forced sexual relations with her adopted father had resulted in at least one child, maybe as many as three.)

A few years later, a counsellor met Williams-Prince outside a treatment centre in Amsterdam, became her friend, and later married her when she was leaving for Canada in 1989, after Indigenous organizations in Canada took up her cause. The couple had five children before splitting up.

"She was the fourth person to come back from the ’60s Scoop," Rabinovitch said.

Prince said because she was part of the first wave of children (now adults) who returned to Canada, that term had yet to even be coined.

"When the ’60s Scoop became known, she became an activist," Prince said. "Everybody looked up at her with her story and her tragic past and what she endured. She was an inspiration to many."

Rabinovitch said he still wants to make a film about Williams-Prince’s life because it is "a very powerful story... We wrote the film in the early ’90s, all with Carla’s participation, co-operation and appropriate compensation"

<p>SUPPLIED</p><p>Carla Williams-Prince and Tommy Prince (centre), seen here with Patty and Marvin Crofton, were married in January 2020, less than four months before her death at the age of 55.</p>

SUPPLIED

Carla Williams-Prince and Tommy Prince (centre), seen here with Patty and Marvin Crofton, were married in January 2020, less than four months before her death at the age of 55.

The script won an award at the South by Southwest festival in 2017, and Rabinovitch and Williams-Prince reconnected a few years ago, when ’60s Scoop cases began hitting the news again.

"(I) said maybe now it’s time to revive the project. She was very keen to have the story told. It’s a promise I made to Carla. And, talking to Tommy Prince, he said one of her last wishes was tell David he has to make the film."

Through the years, Williams-Prince worked in security, including with Phil Fontaine and Ovide Mercredi, when they held the role of Assembly of First Nations national chief.

"She enjoyed it," Prince said. "We worked at all the conferences. She presented herself as a happy-go-lucky person. And she had a lovely smile."

In recent years, she was a caregiver for children and adults living with disabilities.

<p>SUPPLIED</p></p><p>Carla Williams-Prince</p></p><p>- for Kevin Rollason Passages feature / Winnipeg Free Press 2021</p>

SUPPLIED

Carla Williams-Prince

- for Kevin Rollason Passages feature / Winnipeg Free Press 2021

"It was all about helping people," Prince said. "She used to say: ‘Remember, you have to treat people like you’d like to be treated.’

"I miss her a lot. The hardest thing I went through was sitting at home with her, watching her die."

Rabinovitch said the final tragedy of her life comes after her death.

"She never ever received her ’60s Scoop compensation — and I believe she was the lead plaintiff in the Manitoba case," he said. "She was just an exceptional person. She spoke in a small and quiet voice, but her words were always meaningful.

"She was a very strong, determined woman who went through many tragedies... but she never saw herself as a tragic figure. She was a fighter to the end."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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