Sixties Scoop survivors in Edmonton share stories to inform an official apology

Sixties Scoop survivors shared their stories at Amiskwaciy Academy in Edmonton on Thursday to help inform an apology that will eventually be delivered by the provincial government.

'It really ripped up our family. We were strangers'

'I was scooped up when I was five years old'

4 years ago
Duration 1:23
Sixties Scoop survivors share their stories in Edmonton at an event hosted by the Alberta government.

Ken Ward was five years old when he was taken from his home on Enoch Cree Nation and placed at the Blue Quills Residential School.

After leaving the school, then bouncing between foster homes and group homes, Ward lost his Indigenous identity and, for years, most of his family.

"It really disintegrated us; it really ripped up our family. We were strangers," said Ward, who was one of nine siblings separated from their parents.

Ward was among dozens of Sixties Scoop survivors who shared their stories at Amiskwaciy Academy in Edmonton on Thursday. They were among the thousands of Indigenous children in Canada taken from their families and sent to communities in other parts of the province and sometimes to other countries. 

The survivors met with provincial ministers and told their stories, which will ultimately help shape an official apology to be delivered in Alberta's legislature.

For Adam North Peigan, the session was an opportunity to share experiences that haven't been heard widely by government officials or non-Indigenous Canadians.

"Albertans and Canadians need to understand that after the residential schools started to close their doors, there was something else that happened within our Indigenous history," said North Peigan, president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta.

The group helped kick start six sessions that were held across the province. Approximately 500 people participated in total, with Edmonton being the closing session.

"For us today, it's about learning, it's about gaining the wisdom of the people who have that wisdom," said Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan. 

The stories are about "the loss of family," he said. "It's the loss of community. It's the loss of language. It's the loss of a sense of self and a sense of pride." 

There's no set time to deliver the apology, he said, adding the government wants to get it right.

'Who am I?'

Ward's parents struggled with alcoholism when he was a child in the 1960s. But at the time there weren't supports to ensure he and his siblings could stay in Enoch.

After he left the school at Blue Quill, he moved between different homes. He suffered abuse in at least one of the homes, but even in the foster homes that treated him well, Ward said he struggled with the loss of identity and foster parents who weren't equipped to deal with his trauma.

He often questioned his identity.

"Who am I? I thought I was a Swede. I thought I was from England. I had nobody teaching me about culture, or identity, or being a First Nation.

"For me, it was one of my biggest challenges, to recognize who I am, and it was a struggle and it contributed to my addictions."

After he aged out of the foster care system, Ward returned to Enoch. He is sober and said any apology must be followed by action to do better for the next generation.

"By this process today, I'm praying and hoping that us survivors have a very integral role to play to contribute to what was lacking and missing back then," Ward said.

A new government 'scoop'

North Peigan said an apology is especially important in the context of the number of Indigenous children still taken into government care today.

"Today it's referred to as the Millennial Scoop," he said. 

He not only wants to hear an apology but to see resources to allow survivor communities to gather, heal, and ensure that their experiences are not forgotten.

Minister of Children's Service Danielle Larivee said she is aware of the need for action.

"Part of an apology is always saying, 'I'm going to do better in the future.' And so I know part of the healing journey for many survivors is that they know we're working hard to take action."