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Mother's patience wears thin

Woman waiting for reunion with long-lost daughter

Maria Canton
Northern News Services

Inuvik (May 11/01) - Florence Vaneltsi often cries when she watches family reunions on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and wonders if they would be able to help her.

One year ago Vaneltsi celebrated a telephone reunion with her now 22-year-old daughter, Francis. But she is still waiting to wrap her arms around her.

"A big part of my heart has ached all of these years until I heard her voice, but it still aches because I haven't put my arms around her to hug her," said Vaneltsi, who is permanently disabled from a back injury that left her housebound and unable to work.

"I don't know where to turn now, I've been stuck here waiting to meet her for the past six months and I don't know what to do."

More than two decades ago in 1979 Vaneltsi signed a non-ward agreement with Social Services, surrendering her two little girls for what she thought would only be a six-month period.

"I was drinking a lot and I just needed time to get my life in order. It was hard then," she said, staring into the distance, the pain in her voice audible.

Then Social Services wanted to know if she wanted to get away, and paid for her to travel to Old Crow, Yukon.

Vaneltsi said she frequently called to ask about her girls. One of them, Gail, eventually was sent back to her, but Francis never was. And then one day they couldn't even say how Francis was.

That was because Francis had been adopted by a couple from Orillia, Ont., a city in the south of the province, but Vaneltsi wasn't privy to the location, just the fact that she was gone.

"I had nobody. I didn't know what to do, I couldn't do anything," she said.

"But what puzzles me to this day is, if I was such an unfit mother, why would they leave me one daughter and take the other?"

Not knowing where Francis had moved or what sort of upbringing she was having, Vaneltsi was faced with waiting until the daughter she had last seen at the age of just four months became an adult.

During those years she turned her life around, she stopped drinking in 1980, got married and had three more children, all boys.

Last May, before her telephone reunion with Francis, Vaneltsi's story aired on CBC Radio. Calls of support came flooding in and then a call came from Social Services.

"It was the very last call of the day and they told me, 'We have good news for you,' but they made me wait one more day to tell me where she was," said Vaneltsi.

"All these years and they made me wait another day, I didn't sleep at all that night, I was so nervous and so frustrated."

The two "hit it off" on the phone and talked frequently up until October. They have been trying to figure out ways to see each other, and Vaneltsi insists Francis should come north to where her family is.

Conflicting news led her to believe the government would pay for a ticket to the South, but then she was told they wouldn't.

Social Services staff weren't available for comment before press time.

"I've asked different organizations for help, but nothing has happened," she said growing tearful. "I try not to get frustrated and I try not to get angry, but how much longer it is going to take?

"I've been patient for so long, if I ever get my arms around her I don't think I'll ever let her go."