'Canada must own up': Manitoba First Nations leaders call for national inquiry into Sixties Scoop
It's believed somewhere between 11,000-20,000 children were removed from their homes
First Nations leaders in Manitoba are adding their voices to the call for a federal inquiry into a dark history known as the Sixties Scoop.
Beginning in the mid-1950s and lasting until the early 1990s, a series of policies enacted by provincial child welfare authorities saw thousands of First Nations and Inuit children taken from their homes and families, placed in foster homes, and eventually adopted out to white families from across Canada and the United States.
The children lost their names, their languages and connections to their heritage.
"The Sixties Scoop legacy was just a continuation of violent and ignorant policies that were designed by Canada to disrupt and destroy First Nations families and communities," Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs' Organization in Manitoba said Monday at press conference at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.
He called the practice, which began in the mid-1950s and lasted until the early 1980s, the definition of state-sponsored violence.
"By attacking the family structures and incentivizing the apprehension of our families by not only the church, but now Canadian and foreign families, they made everyday citizens complicit in the violence and reliant on the financial compensation it came with," Daniels said.
'Trauma, hurt, pain to children'
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee said parents who had their children taken suffered deeply while their children were used as commodities without any explanation from the government, he said.
"There were commercials — government commercials — to advertise for the adoption of First Nation children. What kind of mentality goes into that kind of mindset to actually use our children as commodities?" Settee asked.
"The people that were behind this policy are responsible for trauma, hurt, pain to children. And Canada must own up to that. That's why there should be an inquiry."
Former Canadian senator Murray Sinclair and a group called 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada first issued the call in early August for an inquiry.
Daniels and Settee said their organizations held a summit in September and unanimously passed a resolution in support of the inquiry call as well as long-term funding support for survivors.
"It's important that Canada understands what happened to every single one of the children that were impacted by this. Until that's done I think we haven't really done justice for Canadians and for all the children that were taken away," said Daniels.
They also want to see the immediate release of any records held by state or church-run entities "to expedite the process of bringing families back together and to bring some closure."
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The SCO represents 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota communities in southern Manitoba while MKO represents 26 First Nations in the province's north.
It's believed somewhere between 11,000 and 20,000 children were removed from their homes and placed with new families in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
Need to analyze numbers, effects of scoop
The estimates vary greatly because many children are believed to have not been recorded as status Indian in their child services records.
There is a need to determine exactly how many children were taken, where they were taken to and the longterm effects of the trauma they have suffered, said Katherine Legrange, a scoop survivor who became the founder and director of 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada, a peer support and advocacy group based in Manitoba.
"Our parents and grandparents need to know that this was not their fault, that this was a result of [government] policies," she said.
"This was not our fault. We did nothing wrong as children. And so that's what I really want to emphasize in this inquiry going forward."
Legrange was taken just after birth from a Winnipeg hospital. By the time she learned, as an adult, that her birth family was from Crane River, it was too late to seek them out.
Both parents died before she turned 10, "so I'm still struggling to put the pieces of my birth story together," she said.
She has four siblings — one who died this past summer in Winnipeg of an overdose, and three who are reluctant to meet.
"I was told that was one of the reasons why I was scooped is because my parents didn't love me, or that community didn't love me," said Teri Starr, who was taken from her family in Sagkeeng First Nation at three months old.
"But it was due to a policy and other peoples' hand that was able to scoop the children. Those questions need to be asked: Why? Why was that all right?"
Between two worlds
She said there is a feeling for many adoptees of being untethered once they are made aware they were part of the scoop. It's a feeling of being between two worlds and trying to balance that out.
"You try to go back and learn your culture, but that's been taken away. Where do you start and where do you go? Who do you ask?" she said.
Starr said she was raised in a really good home but still faced difficult question from herself and others as a dark-haired, dark-skinned, dark-eyed girl in a family with light features.
Now as she begins her search for the past, she faces difficulties in trying not to hurt those who adopted her, she said.
"I want to respect the family that raised me, and I don't want to disrespect them [by] going and trying to find my family, but that piece is important to me as well," she said.