Families of missing Indigenous children welcome call for Quebec inquiry

Quebec's minister of Indigenous Affairs is going to ask First Nations and Inuit what to tackle first among 21 calls for justice issued in a special supplementary report by the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Some Indigenous people are torn about what should be at the top of that list.

More than 50 Innu, Anishnabe, Atikamekw children sent away for medical treatment never returned home

Pierre-Paul Niquay's family is among 40 in three Attikamekw villages who say parents were told their children had died after they were sent to hospital for medical treatment — but they were never given any evidence of those deaths. (Marie-Laure Josselin/Radio-Canada)

Pierre-Paul Niquay feels pangs of fear to this day when he thinks about his two older brothers who were sent to hospital and never came home.

"I was born right after they disappeared, and there are times I think it could have been me," said Niquay, on his way home to Manawan, Que., after attending the closing ceremony of the inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) in Gatineau earlier this week.

The inquiry issued a 175-page special supplement to its final report Monday, to give "particular attention" to the situation of Indigenous people in Quebec. Among its 21 recommendations is a call to establish a commission to find out what happened to Niquay's brothers — and more than 50 other Indigenous children in Quebec whose whereabouts remain unknown.

Niquay said Atikamekw families who testified at the inquiry are feeling a "sense of accomplishment" that their call for answers has been heard.

Niquay is from one of three Atikamekw villages in the upper Mauricie region, where 30 families say they lost 40 children after they were taken by plane to hospitals in La Tuque, Amos and Joliette, Que. in the 1960s and 1970s.

Others disappeared from Quebec's North Shore and the Abitibi, according to testimony at the MMIWG hearings, as well as reports on Radio-Canada and in La Presse.

Diane Petiquay, bottom left, was taken away from her family when she was six months old after being hospitalized with pneumonia. She was placed with a non-Indigenous family without her parents' consent and only reconnected with her family as a teen. (Radio-Canada/Alphonse Mondello)

The commissioners concluded that parents were not kept informed of the health of their children, and they were "denied the power to consent or to withhold consent" about the transfer of their children from hospitals to other facilities.

"The families have the right to be informed about their child's life, from the time he or she disappeared until the present," the commissioners wrote.

The bodies of those who died were never returned to the parents, the inquiry learned.

Niquay said the families wonder if what was done could even be considered illegal.

What should top priority list?

Quebec's minister for Indigenous Affairs is going to ask First Nations and Inuit what to tackle first among 21 calls for justice issued Monday.

"We can't do everything right away," said Sylvie D'Amours in an interview on Radio-Canada Tuesday.

In Pikogan, near Amos in the Abitibi region, Françoise Ruperthouse feels torn about what she would put at the top of that list — an inquiry into missing children or better training for police about the historic mistreatment and abuse of Indigenous people.

Françoise Ruperthouse's parents were never told what happened to her older brother and sister after they were taken from their encampment near Pikogan to hospital in the 1960s. (Submitted by Françoise Ruperthouse)

Two of Ruperthouse's eldest siblings were taken to hospital in the 1960s.

Her brother Tony had a lung infection and died a few years later, but no one informed her parents about his death.

Her sister Emily was taken out of the community after she had an allergic reaction to a bee sting.

She ended up at the Sainte-Anne de Baie-St-Paul hospital halfway across the province, where children with physical and mental disabilities were sent in the 1960s.

Ruperthouse said her parents asked the local hospital what happened, but they were only told that Emily had been transferred.

"We never saw their pain," said Ruperthouse. "But ... they never brought me to the hospital, even when I was really sick."

She said her mother talks about the "children they stole from" me and at 85, she still wants to know why.

Left to right, sisters Françoise and Diane drove 10 hours with their mother Hélène-Joséphyne Wylde from Pikogan to the Sainte-Anne de Baie-Saint-Paul hospital in the 1990s after discovering where long-lost Emily had been transferred three decades before. (Submitted by Françoise Ruperthouse)

Ruperthouse said she would welcome an inquiry into what happened and who was responsible for the lack of information given to parents.

But as a frontline social aid worker who sees people grappling with addictions, she also believes the inquiry's call for changes to police training and oversight must be acted upon quickly.

Ruperthouse said police must learn about the history of First Nations and Inuit in Quebec and what they have survived.

"The first thing I ask anyone I am called to help is whether they have parents or grandparents who were taken away to residential school," she said.

Jacques Viens, the head of the Quebec commission created after Indigenous women in Val-d'Or, Que., complained of mistreatment and abuse at the hands of police, has already stated he will call for better training and education for police in the province.

His report on how Indigenous people are treated when they seek provincial services is due to be released in September.


Catou MacKinnon started working for CBC in New Brunswick as a reporter and then as the Maritime Noon correspondent. Since 2004, she's been reporting on stories from all over the province of Quebec.