Have you heard about the Sixties Scoop?

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The implementation of the Sixties Scoop (or ’60s Scoop) is one of the dark chapters in Canada’s history. It is lesser-known than the opening of residential schools but it had the same design and devastating results.

What was the Sixties Scoop?

From 1951 to the 1980s, child-welfare service workers removed First Nations, Inuit and Metis children from their families and placed them up for adoption into non-indigenous, middle-class families across Canada and the United States (in some cases, other countries as far as New Zealand). The “scooping” of infants and young children was often done without the parents’ or bands’ consent. This process was implemented by provincial governments all over Canada but was more prevalent in the Prairie Provinces (Saskatchewan and Manitoba). It is estimated that more than 20,000 indigenous children were removed from their homes.

The term Sixties Scoop was first used by Patrick Johnson, a researcher for the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD). He used it in a report on Indigenous child welfare commissioned by the CCSD.

Why did it happen?

Contributing factors that gave rise to the Sixties Scoop (The Canadian Encyclopedia):

  1. In 1951, amendments to the Indian Act gave the responsibility of child welfare to the provinces. Provincial agencies inherited several issues surrounding children and child welfare in Indigenous communities, but they had no additional resources. Provincial agencies opted to remove children from their homes thinking that it was the fastest and easiest way to address Indigenous child welfare.
  2. In this period, many Indigenous communities, especially those living in reserves, suffered from poverty, high death rates and economic barriers. These were mainly the effects of devastating federal policies and residential schools. Indigenous children were overrepresented in child welfare systems. It is estimated that one-third of children in protective services were Indigenous.
  3. Social workers at that time were not required to have specific knowledge about, or training in Indigenous child welfare.

It was only in the late ‘80s that child welfare policies began to shift. Findings from reports such as Johnson’s and Justice Edwin Kimelman’s report, No Quiet Place, as well as calls from Indigenous bands made headway in changing these policies. For instance, when putting Indigenous children up for adoption, child welfare agencies began to consider the extended family and then other Indigenous families first before non-Indigenous families. In the ‘90s, the First Nations Child and Family Services program was instituted. This allowed the local bands to take control of their own child welfare services.

Long-lasting effects of the ‘60s Scoop

Loss of cultural identity, low self-esteem, frustration, feelings of shame, loneliness and confusion – these are just some of the effects of the Sixties Scoop on the adoptees who are now adults. While some were fortunate to have been placed in loving homes, many still felt incomplete – they lacked the essential pieces that would have helped them develop their Indigenous identities. Meanwhile, those who were not as fortunate experienced sexual, physical and other abuse. These experiences have had long-lasting negative effects on the health and emotional stability of the adoptees.

Moreover, the final Truth and Reconciliation Commission report found that, “the effects of the residential school experience and the Sixties Scoop have adversely affected parenting skills and the success of many Aboriginal families.” This points to the continuing damage wrought by the ‘60s Scoop on the succeeding generations of Indigenous families.

What has been done to right the wrongs?

Class action lawsuits have been pursued starting in the ‘90s against provincial governments in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. These cases are still ongoing. In 2015, the Province of Manitoba issued an apology for the Sixties Scoop. Manitoba’s then Premier Greg Selinger also announced that this history will be included in the school curricula. In May 2018, Alberta premier Rachel Notley delivered a formal apology in the legislature to the survivors, some of whom were present in the gallery.

Manitoba government officially apologizes for the ‘60s Scoop, Winnipeg Free Press
In 2017, the Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of Sixties Scoop victims, the first victory for a Sixties Scoop lawsuit in Canada. In October of the same year, the federal government announced a settlement of $800 million with the survivors. However, this issue has not been fully resolved. You may have read in the papers that some survivors are contesting case results or disputing the settlement. Our fellow Manitobans who suffered from the Sixties Scoop (and many others in other provinces) continue to fight for validation, recognition and support.

Sources: Birth of a family. Sixties scoop explained, Christopher Dart, CBC; What was the ‘60s Scoop? Aboriginal children taken from homes a dark chapter in Canada’s history, Andrew Russell, Global News; Sixties Scoop, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Sharon Dainard, The Canadian Encyclopedia. All retrieved May 3, 2018.

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