Sixties Scoop survivors in Ottawa are speaking out about the federal government's announcement of a settlement for those who endured a child welfare program that saw thousands of Indigenous youth adopted out of their communities and put into non-Indigenous homes in Ontario.
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 all survivors across Canada.
The settlement means survivors would receive $25,000 each if there are more than 20,000 claimants. If there are fewer than 20,000 claimants, each person would receive up to a maximum of $50,000.
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Colleen Cardinal, co-founder of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network, was taken from her family in Alberta in 1972 and eventually adopted by a family in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
"It is a small step, but we need to have a bigger say. We need more survivors at the table, not lawyers and government. We know what's best for us and we know what we need," Cardinal said.
Since her experience, Cardinal said her focus has been on health, wellness and forming a community among survivors. The network organizes gatherings that draw people from across the country and as far away as New Zealand who were adopted out of various Indigenous communities.
'Small step towards reconciliation'
"It's a small step towards reconciliation for [the government] to even acknowledge what they've done is wrong but they should be asking us for forgiveness," Cardinal said.
It will be up to survivors to decide if the terms of the settlement are appropriate, she said. Cardinal spoke of her own experience of being separated from her sister. She has since been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
'It's like $50,000 doesn't seem adequate to me.' - Colleen Cardinal, co-founder of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network
"It's like $50,000 doesn't seem adequate to me," she said. "Maybe to somebody it is, but for me, I would rather honestly see programs led by survivors where we're doing our own healing."
She said the settlement could affect hundreds of Indigenous people living in the capital region, depending on whether Métis and Inuit are included.
'I didn't belong anywhere'
In February, an Ontario Superior Court judge found the federal government failed to prevent on-reserve children from losing their Indigenous identity after they were forcibly taken from their homes as part of what's become known as the Sixties Scoop.
Marion Morton is one of the people represented in that lawsuit. She was taken from her family in Kenora, Ont. in the early 1970s, when she was barely a year old.
She was raised by a white family in Mississauga, Ont. and faced teasing at school for looking different than her brother. She said she tried to reconnect with her birth family and heritage as an adult.
'When I started to look for my culture, suddenly I didn't belong anywhere.' - Marion Morton, Sixties Scoop survivor
"When I started to look for my culture, suddenly I didn't belong anywhere," Morton said. "I think that was the greatest effect of the government's decision to take children — to take me from my [reserve], to take me from my family and place me with a white family."
She was left feeling that she was an Indigenous woman who didn't know what that meant inside, Morton said.
"I don't know whether money is going to make a difference as far as feeling that I don't have my language, I don't have my culture," she said. "I don't have so many things that I would have known if I'd just been left where I was."
Separated from family
Lesley Parlane, who was originally from the Standing Buffalo Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan, was also taken from her family at a little over a year old and adopted by a family in Calgary in the early 1980s, after moving between three foster homes.
The dollar amount of the settlement won't replace what she lost, she said, and she's far more focused on the acknowledgement that survivors were wronged.
"I never got to meet my biological mom," said Parlane, who lives in Ottawa now.
"If I get a settlement, it doesn't really matter what amount it is. The most important person in my life, I never got to meet her. So that's never going to change that."