Indigenous

Sixties Scoop survivors say $800M proposed settlement won't heal their wounds

Survivors grateful for compensation, but still hungry for healing

sixties scoop survivors

Sixties Scoop survivors Dave Herman, Kathy Hamelin, Lena Wildman, Adam North-Piegan and Sharon Gladue-Paskimin, left to right, gather before meeting with provincial officials at the Alberta Legislative Building in Edmonton on June 14. (CBC)

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Sixties Scoop survivors say that while they're grateful a proposed settlement has been reached between Indigenous victims and the Canadian government, healing will take the rest of their lives.

First Nations and Inuit children who were removed from their homes — and lost their cultural identities as a result — between 1951 and 1991 will be entitled to compensation from a $750-million fund, Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Friday.

Ottawa has also earmarked $50 million for healing and education initiatives, in a deal that still needs court approval.

"It's still an agreement in principle that needs to be approved by the courts," said Adam North Peigan, president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta.

"I'm a little bit disappointed with the amount, because we're talking about $750 million that's capped. If you do the math on that, there's approximately 20,000-plus survivors across Canada. Fifty-thousand dollars per survivor equals $1 billion.

"It's impossible to put a dollar amount on the trauma and amount of atrocities survivors have had to endure," he said. "There's a lot of disbelief among survivors in Alberta. There's a sense of elation, but also disappointment."

Chief Marcia Brown Martel, the lead plaintiff in an Ontario class-action lawsuit related to the Sixties Scoop, said she "feels lighter."

"I feel that the work that has taken [place] over these 12-13 years, 13 years, that is starting to come to fruition.

"It means that Canada will honour its children. It means that the harms that have been perpetuated and been allowed to happen in this country, that those days are coming to a close."

Money is "just a tool" to help with healing, and she chooses to take a positive view, she said.

"What I say to myself is, today is a day where I choose to hold on to the hope. To say that Canada is changing its ways and we have this opportunity now to heal, and Canada will walk with us," she said.

"Children of the Sixties Scoop deserve justice and healing," said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. "We acknowledge the efforts of Canada to provide compensation, but only the individuals affected can determine whether or not this settlement meets their needs.

"The courts of Canada can never compensate, in any amount, the loss of family, community, identity, language and culture. True justice means creating hope and opportunity for the survivors."

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day echoed Bellegarde's sentiments. 

"This $800-million settlement is an acknowledgement that the Sixties Scoop survivors were wronged by the Canadian child welfare system — with far too many of our First Nation children continue suffering in this very system today. Hopefully, this funding will allow for the individual, family, and community healing that is yet to come for so many survivors."

Survivors speak

Marie Loeppky, 41, said she and her seven siblings were taken from their family in Manitoba when she was two years old. Of those eight children, only three remain.

She said Thursday's announcement was a good first step, but will never make up for her loss of identity.

"I think this is at least a start into recognizing that CFS was wrong in taking us away from our families," she said, breaking down.

'I love my adoptive family and I know they didn't do anything wrong … but I've grown up over half my life with a lost identity, not knowing who I am.' - Marie Loeppky

"It's just nice to know that we're getting reconsidered and someone is sticking up for [survivors]. I love my adoptive family, and I know they didn't do anything wrong … but I've grown up over half my life with a lost identity, not knowing who I am."

Loeppky didn't reconnect with her family until 2005. Her mother had already died in 1984, and she didn't meet her father until three years later. He died in 2016.

"I will never meet my older siblings, because they're all deceased," she said. "There's still that kind of empty hole that we were all taken and separated."

Formal apology

What's needed next from the federal government is a formal apology, Loeppky said, to aid healing for survivors. Manitoba is the only government that has formally apologized for the Sixties Scoop. 

Trevor Boller was two years old when he was taken from his birth mother in Edmonton to Red Cliff, Alta. He stayed in a foster home until he was adopted at 12. 

"I felt like I didn't belong," he said. "Growing up in a white home, I tried to be like my brothers and sisters and would try to wash my skin to make it white to fit in with them.

"As you get older, you don't really belong in the native world as you try to reconnect, nor do you belong in the white world, so you're lost without an identity."

Now 52, Boller said he has battled alcoholism and shame.

"I don't look at it as a compensation. I look at it more as a start of an acknowledgment of something that went really bad.

"It's not about the money and a big celebration. It's an acknowledgement of those who didn't make it, those who died from suicide, substance abuse and other tragedies."

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