After spending her flight from Wales, U.K., keeping her children busy and wondering what it would be like in her original home, Kim Thomas-Jones was greeted at the Saskatoon airport by drums and Indigenous singing.
"It was just very emotional," she said. "It is completely everything I dreamt of."
Thomas-Jones had never known her Saskatchewan family. She was taken as a child during the Sixties Scoop. Now she was home for the first time in more than 50 years.
"I think the overwhelming feeling was relief. I think I hadn't dared to believe that I was actually going to be home," she said.
Thomas-Jones embraced her niece Erin Parenteau, who worked to bring her here. They cried in each others arms.
"Holding her was unbelievable," Thomas-Jones said.
Parenteau, who has lost both her mother and grandmother, said Thomas-Jones is the only close-family relative she has left.
"It took my breath away. I just, I started just sobbing," Parenteau said. "It's life-changing for me."
Thomas-Jones was taken from her mother at six months old. She was adopted in Big River, Sask., by a Welsh family that then moved back to Wales.
I keep saying to everybody I can't believe that everybody has gone to so much trouble. It's overwhelming. There's so much love. - Kim Thomas-Jones
Parenteau said she never stopped looking for her Auntie. The breakthrough came when Thomas-Jones matched with one of Parenteau's cousins on Ancestry DNA. Parenteau and Thomas-Jones connected over Facebook and started planning her visit.
Parenteau helped raise money for Thomas-Jones to visit Canada. They didn't want to wait for the Sixties scoop settlement to come through.
"I keep saying to everybody I can't believe that everybody has gone to so much trouble," Parenteau said. "It's overwhelming. There's so much love."
Thomas-Jones decided to bring her two teenage boys along for the trip as well to meet their extended family.
"They're kind of getting to know their relatives here and they're now relaxing into it because obviously it's kind of a whole new experience," she said. "It's kind of a life changing trip for them as well."
Thomas-Jones and Parenteau will both celebrate their birthdays during the visit, as the two were born only one day apart on the calendar: Thomas-Jones on Nov. 20, Parenteau on Nov. 19.
Thomas-Jones has met cousins, friends, family of friends, people inviting her to their homes, and the list continues to grow. She's keeping a journal of everyone she's met, she said.
"It doesn't feel awkward. It doesn't feel uncomfortable. It just feels right," Thomas-Jones said. "Like I've known them forever."
Little moments have been important, Thomas-Jones said. She spoke about waking up to the smells of coffee and bacon, and the sound of her neice cooking.
"It's the most normal thing — It's just the simple things you take for granted," Thomas-Jones said.
Parenteau said it reminds her of doing the same things with her mother.
"It really brings a lot of healing to my heart and it kind of gives me a little bit of that history that we've missed out on all these years."
Holding a piece of her mother's memory
The visit has also given Thomas-Jones the chance to learn about her own mother. A cousin kept Thomas-Jones's mother's broach, a pearl, curlers, teacups and more.
"It's overwhelming to know that I am holding something that my birth mother had been using," she said.
Parenteau said they'll be taking Thomas-Jones to her mother's original home, where Thomas-Jones was taken. Other plans include a sweat lodge ceremony, meet her cousins, hearing Cree in person and spending as much time as possible together as a family.
"She has my grandmother's eyes," Parenteau said. "When I look at her I see my grandmother who raised me."
Thomas-Jones's family back home in Wales is supportive of the trip and helped her prepare emotionally, she said.
"I can't wait for us to return home to show them photographs and share stories," she said. "Who's lucky enough to actually have that kind of support from two families?"
Thomas-Jones said she hopes to be back next year to visit her uncle in Edmonton and see more of her original home.