Indigenous people who were adopted during the Sixties Scoop rallied on Parliament Hill Friday in solidarity with other adoptees across Canada, and to put pressure on the federal government to reform the Indigenous child welfare system.
"We are here to celebrate our survival of the child welfare (system), and to raise those issues," said organizer Duane Morrisseau-Beck. "The message to those survivors is that you're not alone, and that we're really working hard to find some answers."
From the 1960s to the 1980s, an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children were removed from their families and placed with non-Indigenous families — often far from their home communities — during what's known as the Sixties Scoop.
Morrisseau-Beck was apprehended by child welfare authorities in Manitoba at birth in 1968. In 1997 he reconnected with his birth mother, Geraldine Beck, who joined him at the Ottawa rally.
"It's almost like I was away for a long time, and then I returned home," he said. "It was a seamless process, it just took time to get to know who I was and who my community is, and just sort of go through that validation. And some days I continue to do that."
Open letter to the prime minister
He's part of a group of Sixties Scoop adoptees in Ottawa who have been gathering regularly to create a wider support network of Indigenous people who were removed from their families and culture as children.
The group issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last winter, requesting roundtable discussions to develop a national strategy to provide supports for adoptees and address the high number of Indigenous children currently in care across Canada. It has yet to receive a response.
Rawd Belanger, from Yorkton, Sask., came to Ottawa for the first time for this rally. "I was apprehended at a very young age — age three. So this had been an issue with myself most of my adult life," he said.
"So I'm just starting to get to a place in my life where I'm starting to realize that this is something that needs to be dealt with. Not just with myself, but with my family and other First Nations people that have been apprehended during this era."
'It's now out in the open'
Now 55, Belanger says connecting with other adoptees across Canada has had a profoundly positive influence on him. "I'm finding now that at my age, I wish I would have had that opportunity to experience this at a much younger age."
Beverley Jones, who was taken from her family at two months old and grew up in Souris, Man., believes awareness of the Sixties Scoop is increasing. "It's now out in the open and in the public, and we can do something about it now. I felt like I was alone all the time before," she said.
Following the afternoon rally, organizers held a community feast with a documentary screening and musical performances at St. Paul's-Eastern United Church. Morrisseau-Beck said events like these will be ongoing.
"We're really looking forward to welcoming people from across the country as we bring this issue to the attention of Canadians," he said.