Saskatchewan premier apologizes to Sixties Scoop survivors

Premier Scott Moe has apologized for Saskatchewan's role in the Sixties Scoop.

Thousands of Indigenous children removed from their families, adopted out across country

Premier Scott Moe offers the government of Saskatchewan's official apology Monday for the Sixties Scoop. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Premier Scott Moe apologized Monday for Saskatchewan's role in the Sixties Scoop.

"There is nothing that we can offer that can fully restore what you have lost," Moe said, standing with Indigenous leaders from across the province in the lobby of the Legislative Building in Regina.

"What we can offer is the solemn assurance that government policies have changed."

The Sixties Scoop saw tens of thousands of Indigenous children across Canada taken from their families and adopted out across the country and the world, mostly to non-Indigenous families, between the 1960s and the 1980s.

Dozens of people, many of them survivors, packed into the legislative rotunda to hear Moe's comments.

"I feel mixed about it," said survivor and social work professor Noela Crowe-Salazar. "It's good to hear the apology, and it's important for the province to do it, but I would imagine that most people in the province don't know exactly what this means and don't understand the full history of it."

Crowe-Salazar said many of her university-level students haven't heard about the Sixties Scoop, and that needs to change.

"Most of the students say that's the first time they've heard most of the history," she said. "Your average Canadian doesn't know that history."

She also wanted to see reform of the current child welfare system. Crowe-Salazar said there are thousands of indigenous children in the social services system and that many of them will suffer similar effects of children caught up in the Sixties Scoop.

"It has to stop," she said. "They can't keep taking children into care."

Not in favour

While he danced at the event, survivor Rod Belanger said he remains opposed to the apology.

"I'm not in favour of the apology at this time. I'm doing this because I'm wanting our people to get back a part of their voice," Belanger said.

In the fall, the province joined with the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Saskatchewan (SSISS) to hold sharing circles before the long-promised apology took place. The SSISS made a number of recommendations to the province and within weeks the province announced it would deliver the apology.

Belanger, 57, a member of the SSISS, was taken away at about age three. He was fostered by a white family, and said he experienced physical abuse and ended up in a group home at age 12.

Belanger met his birth mother and sister when they showed up at a neighbourhood pool in Regina.

"I was a little bit shocked seeing my mother and sister standing before me," Belanger said.

An onlooker watches as Moe offers the province's official apology. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

He eventually met his father and other relatives.

"There is a honeymoon stage when we are reunited with our families, and then we find out we're totally different people."

He said there are some fairytale endings for survivors who reunite with their birth families, but they're not the norm.

Belanger said his difficult upbringing led him to crime and incarceration. He was saved when he got involved in traditional dance, he said.

Canada took thousands of Indigenous children from their parents between the 1960s and the 1980s, and the effects are still being felt today. 4:09

Apology almost split survivor group

Belanger said the SSISS leadership almost split during the course of eight sharing circles for survivors that were held across Saskatchewan.

"Half of us felt they were going to get something out of the apology, and half of us felt 'this is a bunch of bullshit,'" he said.

"The apology is a huge controversy right now."

He said the government needs more time to realize what has happened and understand what it is apologizing for.

Rod Belanger now and when he was a child, one of many Indigenous people who were adopted or fostered by white families.

Hearing the apology 'not easy'

Melissa Parkyn considers herself lucky compared with other Sixties Scoop survivors.

"I've heard lots of stories, and I was lucky to grow up in a good home, but just the only thing was losing my culture and my language and that identity loss. It took a lot of work for me to work on myself and who I was," said Parkyn, co-chair of the SSISS.

Parkyn was born in North Battleford, one of 14 kids to a single mother. She was adopted out as part of the Sixties Scoop at six months and grew up in Alberta. She was raised by a white family. Parkyn found her birth family when she was 18.

"I didn't know I was Cree. I didn't know my First Nations background, my culture, my language," said Parkyn.

She said she knows hearing the apology "is not going to be easy."

Belanger danced at Monday's apology even though he said he is not in favour. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

Parkyn said many survivors could not attend the sharing circles; others struggled to tell their painful stories.

"There were some that couldn't even walk through the door. They felt it was so hard to tell their stories. They just handed over a letter; that's how hard it was to walk inside and tell their story."

She said others chose not to attend and some don't want the apology at all.

"There are still lots of Sixties Scoop survivors that never came home. And if they did find their way home, they didn't have a chance to meet their family or they're still looking. It's really hard for them to bring up their stories because they're so tragic, and the abuse was not good at all."

Both Parkyn and Belanger want the province's actions to extend past the formal apology. Their recommendations include hosting more sharing circles, adding the Sixties Scoop to school curriculum and releasing apprehension records.

Saskatchewan is the third province to issue an apology, following Manitoba and Alberta. In May, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley delivered her apology. She closed by saying sorry in seven Indigenous languages. 

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About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Bonnie Allen