Listening to “Finding Cleo”

How the search for the truth about one young girl who disappeared forty years ago can bring the greater tragedy of Canada’s Indigenous peoples to the forefront.

Find Cleo PodcastIts remarkable how one family’s story, the story of one young girl, can represent a larger tragedy. As I’ve listened to this story unfold, that thought has come back to me again and again. I recently listened to the first episode of the podcast “Finding Cleo” podcast through David Ridgen’s “Someone Knows Something”. I highly recommend all the seasons of that podcast as well, as David is so thoroughly Canadian and polite and wholesome as he investigated unsolved disappearances, you can’t help but be sucked in by it.

Before I’d even finished the first episode I was searching for more information and had started writing what would become an Instagram post and then this blog post.

The story of Cleo is a haunting and disturbing introduction to one woman’s search for the truth about her sister and the broader, dark chapter in Canadian/Indigenous history. This story does not just exist within Canadian history, however.  Examples of similar attempts at eradication can be found in the United States’ treatment of its own Native tribes or the treatment of those who were or considered inferior or intellectually disabled in the early twentieth century. While the abhorrent behavior of those in power toward those who had none is not new, this podcast  is able to narrow a broader tragic story down to focus on the dismantling of one family and the mysterious end of one little girl.

CBC News is launching Season 2 of the podcast “Missing and Murdered” with host Connie Walker about a family’s search for Cleo Semaganis Nicotine, who was adopted out of her Saskatchewan First Nations community and sent to live in the U.S. 44 years ago. During the first three episodes the mystery of just what happened to Cleo deepens as it’s revealed she may not have been adopted to Arkansas as originally believed.

The last time any of them saw her was in 1974 in rural Saskatchewan when Cleo was allowed to say goodbye to one of her brothers before she was taken to her new adoptive family. Her brother was himself adopted to the States, with government officials essentially bribing him in order to gain his complacency, before he sending him to a childhood of what amounted to slave labor in the United States.

Cleo was nine years old when she was stolen from her family, and she was one of thousands of Indigenous children caught up in what is now known as the Sixties Scoop.

Cleo was believed to have been sent to a foster family in Arkansas and killed while trying to hitchhike back to Little Pine First Nation in Canada, but no one had been able to say for sure how much of that was true.

Now Christine Cameron is joined in her search for the truth about her sister, and answers about the Canadian government’s attempted eradication and forced assimilation of First Nations people.

Listen to “Finding Cleo” on iTunes and visit CBC for photos and more.


Harper Lee Estate Sues Sorkin Stage Production of ‘Mockingbird’

Atticus Finch, To Kill a MockingbirdThe estate of Harper Lee, managed by Tonja Carter, is suing the stage production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” that is being produced by Scott Rubin and Aaron Sorkin.

The lawsuit alleges that the production deviates too much from the novel in regards to the portrayal of Atticus Finch, who begins the play as an apologist for the racism around him and evolves into the righteous man the world knows from Lee’s original novel and the film adaptation starring Gregory Peck.

What makes the argument the estate puts forward so ridiculous is how much the “sequel”, ‘Go Set a Watchman’, deviated from the original novel in regards to the portrayal of Atticus Finch, who is a segregationist and believes the Supreme Court acted too hastily in granting rights to African Americans.

Apparently such deviations of character are only allowed when Carter is facilitating the release of that material. Perhaps if the producers offered Carter—I mean, the Lee estate—a larger royalty, a lawsuit might be unnecessary.

Explaining the changes in character, Aaron Sorkin said, “As far as Atticus and his virtue goes, this is a different take on Mockingbird than Harper Lee’s or Horton Foote’s. He becomes Atticus Finch by the end of the play, and while he’s going along, he has a kind of running argument with Calpurnia, the housekeeper, which is a much bigger role in the play I just wrote. He is in denial about his neighbors and his friends and the world around him, that it is as racist as it is, that a Maycomb County jury could possibly put Tom Robinson in jail when it’s so obvious what happened here. He becomes an apologist for these people.”

harper_lee_nov07From that explanation and having watched Sorkin-penned arguments throughout “A Few Good Men” and seven seasons of “The West Wing” (not to mention the letter Sorkin wrote to his daughter on the election of Donald Trump), I’m eager to see the evolution and on-stage transformation of a man when faced with racism and forced to recognize it for the debilitating evil it is.

How relevant that scenario is now, that he should be given and takes full advantage of the opportunity to discuss it with a person of color. That this person person of color is Calpurnia, a black woman in his employ, should make the conversation even more meaningful. This woman, who is considered socially beneath him and dependent on Atticus for her livelihood, needs to educate and elevate him. However, it shouldn’t be lost on the audience that it is Atticus, and the entire Finch family, for that matter, who depend on Calpurnia for all their needs. How meaningful would it be to recognize that finally in this stage production and rightly attribute Atticus’ strong moral compass to the woman who set it on course?

It seems to have taken the framework of the novel and adapted it to fit with the major themes of our current world. And isn’t that what keeps theater so vibrant? The freedom and fluidity to adapt stories to fit a contemporary lens? To make a historical struggle relevant to what we may come face to face with today?

In doing so, Sorkin has embraced the spirit of “Go Set a Watchman” in that where Atticus himself wanted to break down Scout’s version of him as a flawless ideal and show her he was a man as faulty as any other.  So does Sorkin’s Atticus begin as the imperfect man. In this version he is allowed to evolve and to demonstrate for the audience that we are all flawed and bigoted, whether intentionally or by privilege. But it is in confronting that ignorance, questioning it, arguing it and speaking the uncomfortable truths as Atticus and Calpurnia allegedly do, that we can grow closer to the ideal that Atticus Finch has always represented since “To Kill a Mockingbird” was first published in 1962.

Still Reading “Hell to Pay”


Hell to Pay Matthew HughesI’ve really been trying to get through this book. It hasn’t been easy, and to be honest, Matthew Hughes, the author of “Hell to Pay”, really hasn’t been doing his readers any favors.

I accidentally selected the ebook edition on Goodreads when I started the third and thankfully final book in the “To Hell and Back” series, so Goodreads mistakenly thought that when I updated my progress to page 196, I was done with the book. I wish I was. I wish I still didn’t have to read another 140-something pages to close this series out.

Why couldn’t Goodreads be right?

Why am I reading about a dinosaur chasing Chesney, our hero, in slow motion? Or he’s super fast, so the dinosaur and everyone else just seems to be moving in slow motion.  But don’t worry, in case you forget that fact, the author will remind you every third paragraph. Why am I reading about how Chesney accidentally broke his girlfriend’s ribs carrying her away from the dinosaur super fast. That’s not really important though, because a half-rate Christ figure who was written out of existence when God rewrote parts of the Bible healed her.  His name is Simon, but that doesn’t matter since he’s been a more or less empty barrel of a character.  It isn’t that you don’t like him, its that you don’t care one way or the other if he’s there. Also Chesney’s girlfriend is breaking up with him. While in the tree.  Where they’re hiding from the dinosaur. Also there’s dinosaur people. Simon will probably become their king after they try to sacrifice Chesney and Melda to their dinosaur gods.  Or something.  I don’t know.  More importantly, I don’t care.

So far, I can’t actually nail down what the plot is or where and to what end we’re supposed to be moving towards. The writing had been repetitive, with certain ideas being repeated over and over again without actually moving the story forward. The book feels like a 331 page run-on sentence constantly circling back to a previous idea because the author forgot he’d mentioned that already.

I enjoyed the first book in the series, “The Damned Busters”, even while I didn’t.  But that feeling of just good enough, that optimism that what the book had going for it would make up for its faults, is wearing off, and I’m not sure there’s enough left to get me through those last hundred pages.

The Damned Busters Matthew Hughes

Costume Not Included Matthew Hughes


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