Saskatchewan·Opinion

Moe's Sixties Scoop apology is meaningless if there is no change

A quiet sadness visited me in the days leading up to Premier Scott Moe’s apology to Sixties Scoop survivors Monday.

Premier made apology Monday in rotunda of Saskatchewan legislature

Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Saskatchewan board members Robert Doucette (left) and Melissa Parkyn (front centre), Saskatchewan Party MLAs Paul Merriman and Warren Kaeding, (rear left and right) and Premier Scott Moe enter the rotunda during the grand entry of the Apology to Sixties Scoop Survivors at the Legislative Building in Regina. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

A quiet sadness visited me in the days leading up to Premier Scott Moe's apology to Sixties Scoop survivors Monday.

I was aware of the absence of my two sisters and my brother, who all live too far away to have joined me in Regina to hear the apology.

I also thought about my late mother, Mary Jane Adam.

She brought four children into the world but never got to send any of us to our the first day of school, tuck us into bed with a kiss, receive crayon-coloured valentines, teach us to make bannock, watch us graduate or hold her newborn grandchildren.

Social workers decided that Mary Jane, like thousands of other Indigenous birth mothers of the Sixties Scoop, didn't have what it took to be a mother.

My three siblings and I were apprehended and made permanent wards of the Minister.

Mary Jane survived the death of her mother and three siblings from an infectious disease during one winter when she was a child. After that she survived residential school. After that she survived the Sixties Scoop.

My mother died at age 71 after a life largely devoid of the precious human experiences of family life.

What did she do every year at Christmas? Did she grieve on Mother's Days?

For every one of the estimated 20,000 children taken in the Sixties Scoop, there was some combination of mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, fathers, grandfathers, brothers and uncles.

The Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Saskatchewan placed blankets on two empty chairs to represent the mothers who had children taken and the children who didn't live to hear the apology. (Betty Ann Adam)

On Monday, the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Saskatchewan (SSISS) placed a blanket over two empty chairs in the rotunda of the Saskatchewan legislature building, where the apology was spoken.

One of those spaces was held for the mothers who were left behind.

The other was for the children of the Sixties Scoop who didn't live to hear the apology.

Cultural genocide

During eight days of sharing circles SSISS hosted in six Saskatchewan cities in October and November, we heard the stories of about 200 survivors.

Many shared memories of emotional, physical and sexual abuse in foster and adoptive homes. Many spoke of their struggles with addictions related to their inescapable memories of those traumas. 

Some told of children who died by suicide. 

Some told of siblings who died in adulthood from addictions-related illness, violence or suicide.

Another frequent theme in the circles was the struggle for identity. 

Often, the younger the child was when scooped, the greater the disconnection from their Indigenous identity and more permanent the loss of language.

Performers dance during the grand entry of the Apology to Sixties Scoop Survivors at the Legislative Building in Regina. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Growing up with white foster or adoptive parents, some children were told that they were no different, yet they were called "Indian" or "wagon burner" as insults in the schoolyard. Having white people telling them to be proud of who they were rang hollow.

Some, with lighter skin and hair, were not told they were Cree, Saulteaux, Dene or Metis. Some deliberately hid behind claims of being Spanish or Italian. Some were shocked and traumatized when they learned they were Indigenous.

The extreme disconnection from Indigenous identity, learning and worldview drastically reduced the chances that Scoop kids would raise their own children with Indigenous identities and traditions.

It also reduced the chances they would know their Treaty rights. The Indian Act eliminates Treaty status after two or three generations unless both parents have status.

The Sixties Scoop fits the United Nations' definition of cultural genocide.

Disappointment at omissions

In our report to the Government of Saskatchewan, SSISS relayed the desire for an apology that acknowledged specific wrongs, which were described. We also asked for specific actions to accompany the apologies for those wrongs.

I appreciate that Premier Moe's words were delivered with gravity.

(Left to right) Karen LaRocque of the Riel Reelers jigs with Robert Doucette and Premier Scott Moe at the conclusion of the Apology to Sixties Scoop Survivors at the Legislative Building in Regina. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

I am disappointed, however, in his refusal to say that there was abuse, to take responsibility for government's role in creating the circumstances that lead to addictions and poverty and to admit that government committed cultural genocide.

I am disappointed that he ignored our heartbroken mothers and families.

I am disappointed that there were no promises to include the Sixties Scoop in curricula or to prosecute perpetrators of physical and sexual abuse in the homes of government-approved foster and adoptive parents, especially since children had been taken from their birth parents for protection.

An apology is one action but it is meaningless if there is no change.

Laws and policies must be changed to focus on helping parents cope with intergenerational trauma to become the parents they want to be.


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About the Author

Betty Ann Adam is a freelance columnist. She was a reporter with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix for 29 years. She is Dene and a member of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society.