Aboriginals who were adopted into white families during the so-called '60s Scoop are suing the federal government for their loss of culture and emotional trauma.
Almost 1,200 adoptees have filed a class-action lawsuit in Saskatchewan seeking compensation from Ottawa for "cultural genocide."
From the 1960s to the 1980s, thousands of aboriginal children were taken from their homes by child-welfare services and placed with non-aboriginal families, some in the United States. Many consider the adoptions as an extension of residential schools, which aimed to "take the Indian out of the child."
David Chartrand, who joined the lawsuit, was taken from his Manitoba family at the age of 5 and moved to Minnesota.
"They wanted maids, butlers. They wanted slavery and to do it legally. We just fit that criteria," said the 52-year-old Metis man.
"I was made to clean the house, be their slave, be the punching bag."
Mr. Chartrand said Canada had a duty to protect him and others like him. Although he returned to his home community of Camperville, Man., in his twenties, he lost everything, he said.
"I lost my life, my childhood." he said. "We want to put it behind us so we can move on."
The lawsuit, which was filed last month, is seeking unspecified damages for everything from loss of identity to sexual and physical abuse. Regina lawyer Tony Merchant said many of the children who were adopted weren't in unsafe homes but were taken simply as another way to assimilate aboriginal people.
"It was a part of taking red babies and trying to make them into white adults."
Having been raised by a white family with no cultural support, many survivors have struggled to reclaim their roots, Mr. Merchant said.
"They've just been lost from their culture."
A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt said the Minister wouldn't comment on the lawsuit.
People who were part of the '60s Scoop have been calling for a formal apology from Ottawa. They also want compensation for their experience, which many argue was just as traumatic as that suffered by residential school survivors. But while those who were sent to residential schools have had a formal apology and have been able to participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, '60s Scoop adoptees haven't been formally recognized.
Other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of adoptees. A class-action lawsuit by some survivors in Ontario in 2009 is still making its way through the courts.
Mr. Chartrand worries any resolution to this lawsuit will come too late for many adoptees who are aging and suffering from increasing ill health. For those adoptees who ended up in prison or committed suicide, Mr. Chartrand said, any resolution comes too late.
"As an Indian, you have a spirit. That spirit has to come back home.
"It's not about the money. It's about these kids that are dead out there."