Alberta premier apologizes to Sixties Scoop survivors

Premier Rachel Notley has apologized in the legislative assembly to Sixties Scoop survivors on behalf of the Alberta government.

'For this trauma, this pain, this suffering, alienation and sadness, we are sorry,' Rachel Notley says

Members of the crowd react as they watch Alberta Premier Rachel Notley apologize to survivors and families of the Sixties Scoop. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

Premier Rachel Notley apologized to Sixties Scoop survivors on behalf of the Alberta government in the legislative assembly Monday afternoon.

"From me, as premier of Alberta, from all of us here as the elected representatives of the people of Alberta, and on behalf of the government of Alberta, we are sorry," Notley said, as survivors and leaders of Indigenous communities watched from the public gallery. 

"For the loss of families, of stability, of love, we are sorry. For the loss of identity, of language and culture, we are sorry. For the loneliness, the anger, the confusion, and the frustration, we are sorry.

"For the government practice that left you, Indigenous people, estranged from your families and your communities and your history, we are sorry. For this trauma, this pain, this suffering, alienation and sadness, we are sorry. To all of you, I am sorry." 
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley apologizes to Sixties Scoop survivors in the legislature Monday. 4:46

During the Sixties Scoop, provincial child welfare workers across Canada took thousands of Indigenous children from their families, placing them in mostly non-Indigenous homes from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Adam North Peigan, a survivor and president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta (SSISA), worked with the government on the apology and the consultations that led to it.

"I think what we heard today was a meaningful apology," he said. "It wasn't just saying an apology and crossing it off on the box, and saying 'OK, it's done.' There was meaningful engagement. There was meaningful thought. There was meaningful partnership that happened." 

Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta president and survivor Adam North Peigan hugs survivor Martha Cardinal after Alberta Premier Rachel Notley apologized to survivors and families of the Sixties Scoop. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

However, he said the premier's apology was just the start. More needs to be done on reconciliation and healing. 

Survivors Suzanne Wilkinson, 47, and Sharon Gladue, 49, said they were pleased with Notley's words. Both women were taken from their birth families when they were very young and placed with non-Indigenous families. 

"The apology was more from the heart," Gladue said. "She hit almost every nail on the head."

Suzanne Wilkinson (left) and Sharon Gladue were taken from their birth families at a young age. (CBC)

A chair wrapped in a traditional blanket was placed in the legislature to represent the survivors who couldn't make it to the ceremony, and Gladue said she wished Notley had mentioned that chair.

Wilkinson said the apology could have made more mention of the parents who had their children taken from them. 

"Again, it was a beautiful apology," she said. "I don't want to undermine the hard work that SSISA has done for all of this."

Wilkinson, who flew from Victoria to hear the apology in person, hoped governments across Canada could provide funding so survivors like herself could meet each year. She said sharing stories is a crucial part of healing. 

"Every time we tell our story, parts of our heart and souls and our spirits mend back together," she said 

Consultations with survivors 

The apology was the work of North Peigan's group, which started meeting with the government last year.

Before issuing an apology, the government asked to hear from survivors on what would make it meaningful and sincere.

Children's Services and Indigenous Relations ministries and SSISA held consultation sessions in six communities across the province earlier this year to gather feedback.

About 575 people took part in the consultation sessions and another 286 made submissions by mail and online.

The official Alberta government apology to the survivors of the Sixties Scoop started with a procession and smudge ceremony inside the legislature.

Children's Services Minister Danielle Larivee and Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan took part in the smudge inside the doors of the legislature.

A procession made its way through the Alberta Legislature before the premier apologized to survivors and families of the Sixties Scoop. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press )