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'Sorry' not enough: Province starts hearing from Sixties Scoop survivors on apology wording

The Alberta government is drafting an official apology about the Sixties Scoop and is asking survivors how to get it right, through a series of meetings over six weeks.

Children's Services Minister Danielle Larivee met with about 75 survivors in Peace River on Thursday

Children's Services Minister Danielle Larivee says the meetings will help the province draft an official apology. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

The Alberta government is drafting an official apology about the Sixties Scoop and wants help from survivors to get it right.

Meetings are being held in six towns and cities over a six-week period.

During the period known as the Sixties Scoop, child intervention services in Canada separated Indigenous children from their families and placed them in non-Indigenous homes. The practice started in the 1960s and continued until the 1980s.

Thursday in Peace River, Children's Services Minister Danielle Larivee launched the public engagement, sitting with about 75 survivors from the Peace region to hear their stories.

"We didn't necessarily know what to expect," Larivee told CBC News after the all-day public meeting. "We don't even actually know how many Sixties Scoop survivors there are out there.

"This is an opportunity for those who identify as that and feel the need to engage to come forward and share their story and talk to us about what we need to do, going forward."

'An acknowledgement of wrongdoing'

Adam North Peigan, president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta, said an apology cannot undo the harm of tearing children from their families and culture. But he said it is another step toward reconciliation.

"At the end of the day, it's actually about honouring the process that we have developed," North Peigan said about the public sessions. 

"What people really are looking for is true reconciliation, and reconciliation begins with an apology," he said.

"Survivors are looking for an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and an admission that the Sixties Scoop era was a dark chapter in Alberta's history."

'It's like they forgot about me'

Jarrad Awenose, 31, travelled three hours from Slave Lake to take part in Thursday's session.

He was taken from his mother as a five-year-old boy in 1991, from the Driftpile First Nation.

"I was holding onto my mom, I was hugging her, and the cops forcefully took me away and drove me to my first foster home," Awenose recalled.

"I was just completely scared. I wasn't sure what was going on."

Jarrad Awenose was at the first of six public meetings about the Sixties Scoop on Thursday, held by the province to help draft an official apology to survivors. 2:16

Even though Awenose wasn't part of the Sixties Scoop, he said his experience in the 1990s was the same.

For 11 years, he lived with strangers in various non-Indigenous foster homes throughout Alberta.

Awenose said he lost count, but estimates he had moved through about 20 foster homes by the time he turned 17.

"I felt completely abandoned ... I felt like they just swept me under the rug ... being punished for something I didn't even do," he said.

"It's like they forgot about me. They just passed me off from home to home ... Why'd you take me when I was such a young age? You could have helped me. You could have found somebody that was going to take care of me, that wanted to actually have me."

He said he doesn't have a good memory from the decade he spent in foster care. He recalls being called an Indian, worthless and a future criminal by various foster parents. 

The words "I'm sorry," anybody can say it. It's nice and cheap. "I'm sorry" doesn't really mean anything to me.- Jarrad Awenose

Awenose returned to his family as an adult and now works as a pipefitter in Slave Lake.

Sharing his memories on Thursday with other Indigenous people who experienced the same abuse was cathartic, he said.

"I feel bad that anybody had to go through something like that. It's not right. It's not fair," he said.

"The words 'I'm sorry,' anybody can say it. It's nice and cheap. 'I'm sorry' doesn't really mean anything to me."

He said he would welcome an apology if it meant that in future, "people don't have to go through what most of these people went through in their lives — the abuse, the neglect, the abandonment."

No timeline for apology

Larivee didn't say when the province will issue its apology.

"What we heard is that the words 'I'm sorry' aren't enough," she said. "A real apology requires you to fully understand what you're apologizing for and to intend to do things differently going forward."

She said the province will continue to meet with survivors in communities with high populations of Indigenous people, to reach as many survivors as possible.

There will be five more meetings with Sixties Scoop survivors in Alberta by March 1. Survivors can also submit feedback online.

  • Feb. 1 — St. Paul
  • Feb. 7 — Fort McMurray
  • Feb. 14 — Lethbridge
  • Feb. 21 — Calgary
  • March 1 — Edmonton

About the Author

Zoe Todd

Video Journalist

Zoe Todd is a CBC video journalist based in Grande Prairie, Alta., filing videos and stories about the Peace Region for web, radio and TV.