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Sixties Scoop survivors to gather

Aboriginal children taken from homes, adopted out

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A generation after residential schools, child-welfare authorities removed thousands of aboriginal children from their homes and put them up for adoption in non-native, middle-class homes.

Now, a handful of survivors of the practice, called the Sixties Scoop, will gather in Winnipeg on Monday for a two-day roundtable to talk about what happened to them.

Scoop on the Sixties Scoop

Origin of the phrase 'Sixties Scoop'

The term Sixties Scoop was coined by Patrick Johnston, author of the 1983 report Native Children and the Child Welfare System. It refers to the mass removal of aboriginal children from their families and into the child-welfare system, in most cases without the consent of their families or bands.

Johnston said a B.C. social worker provided the phrase when she told him "...with tears in her eyes that it was common practice in B.C. in the mid-sixties to 'scoop' from their mothers on reserves almost all newly born children. She was crying because she realized -- 20 years later -- what a mistake that had been."

 

Source: University of British Columbia's Indigenous Foundations website

It's believed to be one of the first organized forums for a generation of children, now parents and grandparents, who were stripped of their languages, families, cultures and even their countries through state-authorized mass adoptions in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson conceived the concept and will moderate the forum at the Victoria Inn on Wellington Avenue.

"This is the first time where a government is hosting something like this, on our own initiative," Robinson said.

"We are going to have about 18 to 20 people participating at this roundtable and these people have some delicate stories to tell."

Robinson, himself a survivor of a residential school, said the state-sanctioned removals involved an estimated 20,000 Canadian aboriginal children, including 3,000 from Manitoba.

"This is the first opportunity they're going to have to talk about the challenges they faced," he said.

The roundtable is closed to the public, but there will be an opportunity for media to do interviews on Monday.

Robinson said he knows some of the participants, including a man who, as a boy, was scooped out of his parents' home and raised in a Ukrainian family. The family used the child as a farm worker. At the age of 18, the family dropped the teen off at the former Mall Hotel on Portage Avenue and Colony Street and told him he was on his own.

"He didn't know his own people. He didn't know where he'd come from. They just dropped this 18-year-old off at the Mall. It was the Indian hangout on Portage and Colony," Robinson said.

In another case, a girl adopted by a family was raped repeatedly by her adoptive father and forced to endure more than one pregnancy.

The stories of the Sixties Scoop were overshadowed by the legacy and abuse of the residential-school era, but they were just as horrific and perhaps more isolating for the children because they were on their own and they took place in private homes, Robinson said.

"I'm not downplaying residential schools in any way whatsoever. I come from there. But this was about taking the Indian out of the child and taking the child right out of their own communities," the minister said.

Some adoptees had good experiences, but for all of them there was a sense of lost identity.

There was no going back for many of them. Some who tried found they were strangers. They had no memories of the Métis and First Nation communities they'd been born in and taken from as babies.

Some ended up jails in the United States and some are still behind bars in states such as Alabama, California and New Jersey, Robinson said.

To ignore the Sixties Scoop as a social injustice won't make it go away, he warned.

"This is one of the many arrows sticking out the backs of Indian people. We pulled out one with residential schools. There's another with missing and murdered women. This is another arrow, an arrow of deep hurt," the minister said.

The child-welfare policy ended in the 1980s when Ontario chiefs condemned it and a Manitoba judicial inquiry harshly criticized the practice.

In 2009, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology on the floor of the House of Commons for the century-long policy of residential schools, Manitoba's then premier Gary Doer issued a similar apology at the Manitoba legislature. In it, he offered an apology for residential schools and for the Sixties Scoop.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 A13

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