Alberta officials' role in 60s Scoop sessions was to 'shut up and listen' to survivors, says minister
Final engagement session held in Edmonton
Alberta held its final engagement session with survivors of the Sixties Scoop Thursday in Edmonton, and the Indigenous Relations Minister said it had been an opportunity for officials to take a back seat and listen.
"We have agreed from the beginning that the conversation has to be about the lived experience of the people and what happened to them, their right to talk about that, to put their truth out there and for us as government to kind of shut up and listen, to hear that," said Richard Feehan.
Partnering with the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta (SSISA), an organization made up of survivors, Alberta officials travelled to six communities since January seeking input on how to go about delivering a "meaningful" apology. Submissions can also be made online.
An estimated 20,000 Indigenous children across Canada were taken from their families by child welfare officials during the 1960s through to the 1980s and placed with non-Indigenous families where many experienced loss of culture, language and identity, and even physical and sexual abuse.
The minister said that creating understanding about what happened and how it still affects survivors today is key to formulating an apology and moving forward.
"We have to stop, take that moment and say this is truth and these losses are deeply damaging, grieve those and find the strength to move forward," said Feehan.
Since January, SSISA estimates that 1,000 survivors have come forward to share their stories and provide input into how they would like to see an apology unfold.
Lillian Cardinal entered the child welfare system at a young age along with her 11 siblings in the 1960s, after the loss of their father. Raising 12 children on the Saddle Lake reserve alone was difficult for her mother, said Cardinal, and there were no supports back then to help her. So the children were taken away.
Growing up, Cardinal was placed in several group and foster homes throughout central Alberta. She and her older sister Barb Zinghini said they were treated like second class citizens.
"We were like farm labourers," Zinghini said.
She recalled eating out of garbage cans while living in foster care.
"It was a house of horrors ... and nobody wanted us. It was like they were doing us a favour by having us there."
Cardinal is now a social worker and has spent years reconnecting with her Cree culture and using ceremony that she once had no access to. She has also moved back to Saddle Lake and said the healing process is a continual one.
"I'm happy that these little children, who are now adults, have a voice finally," said Cardinal.
She said being able to share their stories with other survivors and the government that they feel was responsible for the trauma they've endured helps to make the burden lighter and, she hopes, will help keep it from happening to other children.
"It's overwhelming to know that there's support and people who really care and want to listen," said Cardinal.
"But the whole outcome of it is that these things not happen again to children in care and to make sure the children in care are placed in Aboriginal homes."
Indigenous children still taken away
Indigenous children in care continues to be an issue in Alberta and across Canada. Last January, federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott held an emergency meeting in Ottawa on child welfare, saying that Indigenous children continue to be "scooped up from their homes, taken away from their family and we will pay the price for this generations to come."
According to Alberta's child and youth advocate, Indigenous youth make up 10 per cent of the youth population in the province, yet they account for approximately 70 per cent of all children in care.
Alberta Children's Minister Danielle Larivee said that the actual number of children in care has gone down within the last five years, but Indigenous children are still over-represented.
"In terms of the proportion, we still have an incredible amount of Indigenous children in care so there's a lot more to be done," she said.
Alberta has not yet set a date when an official apology will take place. Instead, Feehan said they're allowing an "organic process" to unfold and won't rush into saying sorry, whether it will take six weeks or another six months.
Manitoba's government apologized for its role in the Sixties Scoop in 2015. Last year Ottawa announced an $800 million settlement to compensate all First Nations and Inuit children who were removed from their homes — and lost their cultural identities as a result — between 1951 and 1991.