Sixties Scoop survivors pressure Alberta to move forward with apology

The Alberta government hopes to issue an official apology to survivors of the Sixties Scoop in early 2018, the province's Indigenous relations minister said, as officials met with a group of survivors on Wednesday.

Province aims to issue official apology in 2018, following consultations with survivors

Sixties Scoop survivors (from left to right) Dave Herman, Kathy Hamelin, Lena Wildman, Adam North-Piegan and Sharon Gladue-Paskimin gather before meeting with provincial officials at the Alberta Legislative Building in Edmonton on Wednesday. (Brandi Morin)

A smudge, prayer and singing of an honour song on the steps of the Alberta Legislative Building on Wednesday morning were held by members of the newly formed '60s Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta before meeting with provincial delegates.

The society, made up of survivors of the Sixties Scoop, presented an outline on how the government should move forward with an official apology.

During the Sixties Scoop, child welfare workers removed thousands of Indigenous children from their homes across Canada and placed them with mostly white foster families from the 1960s to the '80s.

Adam North-Peigan, a Sixties Scoop survivor and a spokesperson for the society, said it's important that the apology process is based upon a partnership with the province. However, he added, survivors need to be at the forefront.

"The engagement process needs to be driven by Indigenous people who are Sixties Scoop survivors themselves," he said.

"The Alberta government has admitted that it was a dark chapter in Alberta's history when the Sixties Scoop happened, so they need to take a role themselves because they're the ones who actually have to stand up and admit that there [were] some wrongdoings and issue an apology."

Survivors pray during an honour song on the steps of the legislative building prior to Wednesday morning's meeting. (Brandi Morin)

The province says it is looking at visiting select communities to consult survivors on the apology process, as recommended by the society.

"The idea that we actually need to hear people talk about their experience, and some of their expectations of what the apology will be about, before we actually do the apology is exactly what I said I wanted to do," said Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan.

"It feels to me it's important to get in-depth because when you're apologizing, it's important to know why you're apologizing — not just with a few words, say, 'I'm sorry that happened,' and then walk away."

Feehan hopes an official apology will take place in early 2018.

Manitoba apologized to Sixties Scoop survivors in 2015, making it the first and only province so far to have done so.

North-Peigan said the residual effects of Indigenous children being targeted and removed from their families and culture during the Sixties Scoop era are still being felt.

"It's been really troubling for a lot of our people. We have a lot of people who are not with us today because they couldn't come to terms with the trauma, and as a result they've taken their lives through suicide and substance abuse," he said.

"With the survivors that are still here with us today, there's still issues of trust, there's still issues of self-identity, dysfunction. But our communities are getting well and healing."

Alberta Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan says he's supportive of moving forward with an apology from the province to survivors of the Sixties Scoop. (Brandi Morin)

'I was the only Indian kid'

Kathy Hamelin, 59, knows the pain of surviving abuse from being in foster care.

She was raised by her grandparents in northern Alberta, but at the age of 14 she was taken by child welfare authorities because, she was told, her grandparents were too old to care for her.

"I didn't want to go and I said, 'No!'" said Hamelin. "But they threatened me with police … my grandmother was chasing after the car."

Hamelin was placed in several foster homes in southern Alberta. She said one of her foster fathers raped her regularly. One day, he drove her to a dugout down a back country road, threatened to kill her and put her body where no one could find her, she said.

"He just helped himself to me whenever he wanted to," she said. "I was the only Indian kid around there. There was no one I could speak Cree to."

Kathy Hamelin, a survivor of the Sixties Scoop, says she was taken away from her grandparents when she was 14 years old and sexually abused while in foster care. (Brandi Morin)
She said her foster family told her that no one wanted her and that her own family, including her grandparents, didn't want her.

Hamelin said she broke down and attempted suicide, but she found renewed hope after having a dream about her grandmother that led her to run away and return home. 

All these years later, Hamelin is happy that steps toward an official apology are being taken, but she said there were a few tense moments at Wednesday's meeting that had her question the government's position on the issue.

"It started off pretty rocky. We were asked to step down as the society and let the government take the reins. We said, 'No, we are not stepping down. We are the survivors, we are the leaders!' It got pretty testy there for a while," she said.

Feehan said the province is fully supportive of working toward an apology, adding that it goes hand-in-hand with reconciliation and Alberta's commitment to Truth and Reconciliation efforts and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"What we're trying to do right now is just make sure we have a good relationship," said Feehan.

The apology, he said, is "an important process and deeply personal issue that we have. We're worried that it will get offline and just not do what it's supposed to do."

About the Author

Brandi Morin, Métis, born and raised in Alberta, possesses a passion for telling Indigenous stories. Based outside Edmonton, Morin has lent her talents to several news organizations, including Indian Country Today Media Network and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network National News.