As It Happens

'All I wanted was to go home': What the Sixties Scoop settlement means to Marcia Brown Martel

Today the federal government announced plans to pay out $800 million to survivors of the Sixties Scoop. The lead plaintiff in the Ontario case tells us what the settlement means to her.
Chief Marcia Brown Martel, the lead plaintiff in an Ontario class action lawsuit related to the Sixties Scoop, drums out of Centre Block on Parliament Hill on Friday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Story transcript

This morning, the Canadian government announced a settlement for survivors of the Sixties Scoop policy that saw Indigenous children forcibly taken from their families.

Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said a final agreement still has to be reached, but the government has set aside $750 million for individual compensation. They've earmarked another $50 million for a foundation dedicated to reconciliation initiatives.

Marcia Brown Martel, the lead plaintiff in the Ontario action and Chief of the Beaverhouse First Nation, was four years old in 1967, on the day she was taken from her home as her mother watched.

"As my mother stood, watching her children being taken away, there was an officer there who had a gun, thinking she was going to get shot. So she held back from trying to grab me and save me," she told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"She thought it would be better that I see her well and standing, than see her be hurt, or be shot."

Brown Martel spent her childhood and teenage years with multiple sets of foster parents and guardians, and spent some time homeless as well. Over time, the lack of stability took its toll on her.

"I'd been fostered out to so many places, and all it did was prove to me nobody wanted me," she said.

Chief Marcia Brown Martel on healing

5 years ago
Duration 0:31
Ottawa announced a compensation deal for the adoption policy know as the Sixties Scoop

A major part of the settlement concerned the government's acknowledgment that the Sixties Scoop — which actually lasted between 1951 and 1991 — effectively erased the children's ability to learn about or preserve their Indigenous heritage and culture.

"I was taken away, and my language was used against me as a child. Because I didn't know any language other than my Algonquin mother's language, I was labelled as mentally handicapped," Brown Martel said.

"I was four. Four years old. All I wanted was to go home."

'I thought I was entirely alone'

It wasn't until many years later, in the early 2000s, that Brown Martel was able to connect the dots from her childhood to the nation-wide initiative that affected tens of thousands of kids like her.

"I was listening to the presentations from a Native Child and Family Services director, [and] I was sitting and going, I think that happened to me. And I ended up talking to this director afterwards and saying, I think this is what happened to me. And we sat down and yes indeed, it had."

Chief Marcia Brown Martel touches her drum as Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

It took her a month to process the revelation that hers was actually a story shared by tens of thousands of Indigenous children across Canada.

"I thought I was entirely alone in this," she said.

Once she did, however, it set her on the path to become one of the prominent voices on the matter.

'I need action first'

Brown Martel said she agreed to a settlement, outside the court process, in large part because the government put aside a pot of money to encourage reconciliation efforts to chart a "path forward" after decades of pain.

But there's still much to be done before she can consider the matter definitely settled.

"It's not like I haven't been lied to before. It's not like my people haven't been lied to," she said.

"I need action first. Then I can stand and say, 'Thank you, you have fulfilled your honourable words.' I want to be able to say that some day."

With files from CBC News. 

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Marcia Brown Martel.