Alberta Sixties Scoop survivor feeling 'vindicated' by Ontario court ruling

Adam North Peigan doesn’t remember the day he was taken away from his mother, but it’s a moment that has haunted him for decades.

'The federal government and the provincial governments need to share responsibility for what we had to endure'

Adam North Peigan was taken away from his mother as an infant. The Sixties Scoop survivor is asking for provincial compensation and an official government apology. (Google Images)

Adam North Peigan doesn't remember the day he was taken from his mother, but it's a moment that has haunted him for decades.

Peigan is one of thousands of Indigenous children apprehended from reserves across Canada and placed into non-Indigenous foster homes by provincial child welfare workers during what came to be called the Sixties Scoop.

He spent 18 years being shuffled between foster homes and youth shelters across Alberta, a turbulent life that left him feeling abandoned.

"I remember numerous nights when I was supposed to be sleeping, sitting up and staring out my bedroom window in the dark, and trying to figure out who I was," said Peigan, his voice breaking.

"And I won't deny the fact that thoughts of suicide entered my mind, because I really didn't have a sense of belonging."

An Ontario judge ruled Tuesday that Canada breached its "duty of care" to the apprehended children. The ruling in a long-running and bitterly fought class-action lawsuit paves the way for an assessment of damages the government will now have to pay.

Peigan, 52, who now lives in Edmonton, hopes the ruling will trigger provincial compensation for survivors. He also wants a formal, public apology from Premier Rachel Notley to survivors and their families.

"And I'm hoping that this ruling out of Ontario will have a domino effect, from province to province, and it will eventually hit Alberta, where the government will have to implement some sort of reconciliation package for the survivors," Peigan said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"The federal government and the provincial governments really need to share responsibility for what we had to endure."

The Alberta government emailed a statement to CBC News, saying they have met with Peigan and "will continue to work with the indigenous community on issues of reconciliation."

"We recognize the historical trauma caused to Indigenous peoples through being separated from family members and losing their cultural connections," reads the statement from the Office of the Minister Indigenous Relations, Richard Feehan.

"Government is currently examining the implications of the Ontario court decision on Alberta."

It was a horrendous experience'

Peigan was only an infant when Alberta Social Services removed him from his family home on the Piikani First Nation, northeast of Pincher Creek, Alta, and placed him in government care.

"When I think back to those days, I can't imagine the feelings that I had to endure," said Peigan. "A loss of identity, a loss of language, feelings of abandonment, not feeling that I could trust anyone, feelings of trying to figure out of I was and where I belonged."

He spent his childhood in the care of strangers, rarely staying in the same foster home for more than a few years. Then government social workers decided it was time to "reintegrate" him with his community.

On the eve of his 18th birthday, after years of isolation from his family, he was sent back to the reserve, and felt like an outsider in his own home.

"It was a horrendous experience," said Peigan. "It was culture shock for me, because I was totally not aware of my own people, my own community. Even though it was place to go where my family and my home was, I still felt a sense of loss."

Beyond the legal ramifications, Peigan hopes the recognition that people were failed by their own governments will will give survivors like him some semblance of peace.

"It's been a day filled with emotions going up and down, kind of like a roller coaster," Peigan said of Tuesday's ruling. "But at the same time, I'm feeling very relieved and vindicated at this first step in reconciliation."


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

With files from Leslie Goldstone