Maine's Truth and Reconciliation Commission finds 'evidence of cultural genocide'

Days before the Manitoba government apologized for the Sixties Scoop, the state of Maine finished a Truth & Reconciliation Commission into a similar problem that plagued indigenous people there.

As Manitoba apologizes for the Sixties Scoop, a look at how Maine approached a similar problem

Commissioners of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission. (The Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission)

On Thursday, the Manitoba government apologized for the Sixties Scoop - the forced adoption and relocation of thousands of indigenous children. 

But in Maine, where indigenous peoples faced a similar problem with child welfare agencies - a different approach has been taken to facing a dark history.

In 2013, the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission was launched, tasked with investigating why so many Wabanaki children ended up in child welfare. 

Although the Wabanaki are just four tribes with around 8,000 members, it was found that Wabanaki children are five times more likely to be apprehended by child welfare agencies than other children in the state.

"At one point in the '80s, Maine had the second highest rate of removal for native children in the United States," said Charlotte Bacon, executive director of the Wabanaki TRC.

Bacon said the commission also found one Wabanaki community where one in three children had been apprehended by child welfare during the 1970s.

While Canada's Sixties Scoop is considered to have lasted from the 1960s to the 1980s (some believe it started as early as the 1950s) - the Wabanaki TRC investigated the relationship with state child welfare between 1978 right up until 2013.

Bacon said the sheer amount of apprehensions had the same effect that residential schools had on indigenous children in Canada - many Wabanaki children were sexually or physically abused. They also lost their language and culture.

The Wabanaki TRC was created jointly between the state of Maine and Wabanaki peoples. It conducted research into child welfare and held public events where people were allowed to share their experiences in that system, much like the Canadian TRC. However, unlike its Canadian counterpart, the Wabanaki TRC had to do its own fundraising. 

After two years, the Wabanaki TRC released its final report at a ceremony in Hermon, Maine on June 14.

"We really came to the heart-wrenching conclusion that was kind of interestingly and uncannily echoing what the Canadian TRC found, which is that we are calling this continued evidence of cultural genocide," said Bacon.