Ontario Children's Aid Societies have outlined commitments to guide their policies to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Sixties Scoop, but admit there is still significant work ahead.
The Canadian government has reached an agreement in principle worth $800 million with survivors, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced Friday morning.
The settlement applies to status First Nations and Inuit survivors across Canada.
The policy, which was in effect in the mid-1960s to early 1980s, removed thousands of Indigenous children from their families and placed them in non-Indigenous homes. It led to a loss of culture, language and severing of family bonds.
- Canada announces $800M settlement with Sixties Scoop survivors
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Barbara MacKinnon, executive director of the Ottawa Children's Aid Society, said the acknowledgement of problems with the system is an important part of changing for the better.
"Without admitting that things have gone wrong, that the wrong approaches were used, that families were destroyed and a culture was impacted, it's hard to put the changes that are required in place," MacKinnon said.
She said the Sixties Scoop and the ongoing overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system have made it hard to build trust with the Indigenous community.
"It is very understandable why there would be doubt that we are committed to the change," she said.
MacKinnon said the Ottawa Children's Aid Society partners with local Indigenous organizations to try to avoid removing children from their families.
Those organizations, such as Wabano and Minwaashin Lodge, need more resources so they can provide families the services they need to avoid the child welfare system, according to MacKinnon.
The federal government still hasn't complied with a ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal forcing it to fund child and family services equally on First Nations reserves.
Overrepresentation still a problem
In Ontario, Indigenous children were 12 times more likely to be identified as foster children than non-Indigenous children, according to the Residential Services Panel Review from 2016.
The Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies has outlined a number of commitments to advance the cause of reconciliation.
They include reducing the number of Indigenous children in care, moving files out of court, trying to keep children in their communities and providing resources for communities to care for youth.
- Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies apologizes for Sixties Scoop
- Indigenous children lose cultural connection in child welfare system
Karen Hill, director of Indigenous services for the association, said some of the transformation will require a change in the laws governing child welfare.
"It's going to take a lot of courage, it's going to take innovation and creativity and it's going to take strong partnership from [the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services]," she said.
"In the interim — it's not going to happen overnight — you're still going to see Indigenous kids involved with non-Indigenous agencies."
Earlier this week, the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies issued a formal apology for the damage done to survivors of the Sixties Scoop.
The event included an appearance by Marcia Brown Martel, the lead plaintiff in the successful Ontario class action for Sixties Scoop survivors, and her lawyer Jeffrey Wilson.
'We can start the journey back'
Hill said Martel and Wilson called for agencies to help people find out if they qualify for the benefit by using their archives.
"One of the worst aspects of the Sixties Scoop is these Indigenous kids were adopted not only in Canada, but in the United States, in Europe, really all over the world," she said Thursday.
Hill is herself Mohawk from the Six Nations on the Grand River and said her family didn't experience the scoop or residential schools.
She said combing through records may help identify people, but the task of reconnecting people with their culture and language is immense.
"It's a tall order, I don't know that we could do that, but we can start that journey back."