Many Manitobans are familiar with the term Sixties Scoop, which defines the era from 1966 to 1982 when child-welfare officials exported thousands of aboriginal children for adoption to primarily white, middle-class homes. More than 3,400 were shipped out between 1971 and 1981 alone.
Estimates are that some 20,000 native Canadian children were caught up in the Sixties Scoop, but the true scope and toll of what would be called a "systematic, routine" cultural genocide has not been described. Manitoba was the last province, in 1982, to halt the adoptions and, despite the example of other provinces, still refuses to fully open pre-1999 adoption files, thwarting efforts of families and adopted children to find each other.
The children were taken from their parents because the prevailing attitude among child-welfare agencies, largely staffed by non-natives, was that aboriginal homes were deficient and the remedy for neglect -- a catch-all encompassing substandard housing, poverty, lack of food, alcoholism -- was permanent removal from the community. The result was the severing of cultural, familial and personal identity, and, for many, physical and psychological abuse. All this has had a lasting generational impact.
There are compelling grounds to establish an external commission to collect the stories, to comb the files never opened and to reveal the extent of the cultural genocide that former provincial court judge Edwin Kimelman in 1984 concluded took place following his review of 1981 adoption records.
That sounds much like the work of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission for residential schools, and it should. Like residential schools, the Sixties Scoop was the product of a state-sanctioned agenda.
Deputy premier Eric Robinson, following a two-day meeting with Manitobans sent away between the 1960s and 1982, said this week the province must help connect lost children with parents, siblings and extended family. Manitoba must open its files for review by an independent inquiry to make clear the scope and legacy of the Sixties Scoop. More immediately, it must also open all adoption files, respecting the veto of individuals opposed to contact, to adoptees and their families now trying to piece together lives broken by the misguided and harmful state intervention.