A few years ago, a report was submitted to the B.C. legislature that examined, among other things, the consequences of a federally sanctioned program under which thousands of native children were removed from their homes and placed in the care of mostly non-aboriginal families.
It became known as the Sixties Scoop, although the dislocation of more than 20,000 First Nations children from British Columbia to Ontario would continue from the 1960s right through to the 1980s.
As a phenomenon, it has mostly existed in the shadows of the residential-schools calamity. But more recently, the incalculable damage the policy inflicted on its victims is being recognized with the help of court rulings such as the one this week in Ontario, that found the federal government had wronged thousands of aboriginal citizens who were ripped from their families under the relocation measure.
The report by an aboriginal committee of family and children’s services to the B.C. legislature in 2010 was largely ignored. It shouldn’t have been. In many ways it brilliantly distilled, in one slim volume, the outsized devastation the Sixties Scoop caused on a generation of aboriginal children.
Under the federal edict, social workers in five Canadian provinces descended on mostly poor First Nations communities looking for children to protect. They arrived equipped mostly with Euro-Canadian notions of what an acceptable domestic situation looked like. So, for example, when they didn’t see fridges stocked with items they would find in the homes of people they knew (and found berries and dried game instead) it was often premise enough to remove children on the grounds they were malnourished and ill-treated.
These children were often taken without their parents’ knowledge. They would be separated from siblings. They were effectively abducted from their homes and shipped off to somewhere authorities considered a place where the child had a better chance of thriving. Occasionally, that meant a home in Tennessee or Alabama or Louisiana – states that couldn’t have offered a more contrasting and unsettling milieu for an aboriginal child who didn’t speak English.
The aboriginal committee reporting to the B.C. legislature outlined the grim consequences of this action. It spoke about how the homes these kids went to ranged from ones that were caring, with well-intentioned parents in charge, to places of slave labour that included physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
Adults in the homes were not equipped to create a setting in which a positive aboriginal self-image could develop; rather, more often the adopted children were taught to “demean those characteristics about themselves that were aboriginal.” They were encouraged to mimic the behaviour of other Euro-Canadian or American kids.
“The impossibility of emulating the genetic characteristics of their Caucasian caretakers results in an identity crisis unresolvable in this environment,” said the committee’s report, entitled Liberating Our Children.
The Sixties Scoop was a form of cultural genocide, of that there is now little question. It was the conclusion, also, of Manitoba Justice Edwin Kimelman who published a report into the matter in 1985 called No Quiet Place.
Sixties Scoop children were essentially imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. Sure, they had certain liberties in the homes they were moved to but their parents, their siblings, their grandparents, their language, their cultural identity were taken and thrown away. These children lost something that was, in many ways, similar to the freedom a convict surrenders when he goes to jail.
We can’t even fathom the outrage that would be incited if the same type of program was rolled out involving white children in this country. There are also Canadians who believe the notion of First Nations people losing their “cultural identity” is ethereal, politically correct nonsense, a modern-day fiction dreamed up by bleeding-heart liberal academics.
If only these same skeptics could see the confused, weak, trembling shells of a human being the Scoop often created.
The victims of the recent court judgment in Ontario are seeking $85,000 each in damages. That’s it – $85,000. To me, that is an outrageously low sum of money to compensate someone for a government policy that ruined thousands of lives, some of which were cut short by suicide.
If the federal government tries to fight this settlement, it would be exacerbating a despicable situation its predecessors created in the first place.Report Typo/Error