Sixties Scoop survivors victimized twice, columnist says

Survivors of the Sixties Scoop won a big court battle against the Ontario government in mid-February but the fight is far from over, writes Steve Bonspiel.

Survivors should have more say in what happens after Ontario court battle, Steve Bonspiel writes

Sixties Scoop marchers carry signs calling for compensation and support from the government. (Meagan Fiddler/CBC)

Survivors of the Sixties Scoop won a big court battle against the Ontario government in mid-February, but the fight is far from over.

The children of the government-sponsored Sixties Scoop were treated like experiments as they were forced to be part of an immoral program that tore Indigenous youth from the only home they knew, inserting them into foreign cultures against their will.

It was another version of residential schools, sold to the Canadian public like this: The "Indians" were unable to take care of their own, so would someone, preferably white, be willing to take them in? We'll pay you, they said, and it doesn't matter what happens to them.

Just take them.

And take them in they did, so many of them, too often with malicious intent, like human ATMs: sexual, physical and mental abusers who took advantage of our children.

Once the doors were closed, they were helpless little kids, left to fight on their own.

So many of them just never came back, mentally and physically. They were too far gone, out of the fold; assimilated, devastated.

Not all of their foster parents were bad, of course, but there's little positivity in a system that takes you out of your home as its first resort simply because of who you are.

Fight far from over

Survivors won a big court battle against the Ontario government in mid-February, but the fight is far from over. What about the other provinces? When does Ottawa get its comeuppance for its complicit role in destroying generations of Indigenous people?

Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled: "Canada breached this common law duty of care" to protect our children and their Indigenous identity.

The lawsuit covers the start of the Canada-Ontario Welfare Services Agreement in 1965 to a fundamental shift in Ontario's Child and Family Services Act, where Native identity was formally (and finally) taken into consideration in 1984.

That wasn't long ago and the attitude that our children's identity is not worth as much as other children still prevails today in dark corners where key decisions are made (without our input).

Just Google Cindy Blackstock.

A pittance

Money for your childhood is not good enough, of course.

Money won't get your identity back, it won't teach you your language, and it will not repair all of the damage done. It certainly doesn't get Ottawa off the hook, as it continues to treat our communities as collective pariahs.

Old newspaper clippings promote adoption of First Nations children. (Karen Pauls/Twitter)
The potential "award" of $1.3 billion for an estimated 16,000 victims in Ontario alone is a pittance — a mere $81,250 each, before the expensive lawyers get a hold of it.

So the real work, the fight to get back all of those things, is a difficult, often times impossible uphill battle, as many survivors can attest.

The difficulty of reintegrating into a Native community made victims out of the Sixties Scoop children twice in their lifetimes. It spread the Sixties Scoop stigma to their children and grandchildren, continuing a government-sponsored breakdown of community, family and child on-reserve.


So what will really come out of this court ruling?

Society has to change so these types of injustices don't continue happening. It is the people who have to change; it's not up to the courts to make them change.

Kinzie Halcrow is overcome with emotion at the Sixties Scoop apology ceremony at the Manitoba Legislature on June 18, 2015. He was born in Manitoba but grew up in Texas. (Karen Pauls/CBC)
Governmental minds have to change; their policies have to reflect our realities, through real consultation with our communities and not the usual paternal pandering.

Want to know what we want and need? Ask us.

We have inherent and treaty rights and they include the right to self-determination. Ironically, it's their own courts that have to (although not always) make these rulings of common sense, while Ottawa keeps fighting to keep the status quo.

The price

Don't forget, both the Conservative and the Liberal governments tried to stop this lawsuit from getting to this point.

That's the shameful legacy of the Sixties Scoop.

They kicked you out of your own home and then they said you lied about it. Then they refused to help and pointed the finger at your parents.

If the victims came back home different from the rest of their communities in their way of thinking, Ottawa knew what would follow: the ridicule, the ostracizing, the us versus them mentality, even though we're all the same.

The federal government chose not to appeal the court ruling, but they had, up until the week before, tried to get it thrown out and replaced with talks led by politicians.

Sorry Ottawa, we're not buying what you're selling anymore. 

We've already paid a big enough price.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Steve Bonspiel

Editor, The Eastern Door

Steve Bonspiel is the editor/publisher of Kahnawake Mohawk Territory’s award-winning weekly newspaper The Eastern Door. He has won numerous provincial and national awards for his articles and editorials. Bonspiel is Mohawk, from Kanesatake, currently based in Kahnawake, Que.