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This article was published 24/3/2019 (757 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Accountability from authorities. Support for coping with ongoing trauma. A sense of being equally recognized as survivors of a decades-long injustice perpetrated against Indigenous people, wherein children were taken from their families and adopted or fostered out to non-Indigenous homes.
These are some of the things Métis survivors of the ’60s Scoop hope to see, on the path to healing. Now, the Métis National Council (MNC) hopes to take that feedback to Ottawa, as it pursues its plan for a nation-to-nation reconciliation with the federal government for the Scoop era, which lasted from the 1950s to the 1990s.
On Saturday, about 75 Métis survivors, as well as their supporters, gathered in a Clarion Hotel meeting room for the first of two days of discussions.
The event is part of a countrywide series of MNC engagement sessions, which kicked off in Swan River earlier this month and runs until late April.
For some survivors, this weekend’s engagement session marked the first time they’ve been surrounded by so many others who shared similar stories of being taken out of the Métis community. Some were exposed to abuse in their foster homes, or severed from knowledge of their cultural identity.
"It’s been very good, very informative, and the people sitting around the table are very vocal and letting you know what they’ve gone through," said Bella Gelbraith, who was scooped shortly after birth in Churchill.
"I think we’re all here for the same reason, we need some healing. And I guess, maybe in sort of a way, a closure."
That has been a long time coming for the Métis Nation. In 2017, following litigation in Ontario, Ottawa announced an $800-million settlement package that would compensate status First Nations and Inuit survivors with between $25,000 and $50,000. But non-status First Nations and Métis survivors were excluded from the settlement.
"It was like a kick in the stomach," said MNC senior adviser Duane Morrisseau-Beck, himself a Scoop survivor. "We’re being left out again. We’re not being recognized. But I think there is a silver lining in all of that. Going through a court process doesn’t dive into what the real needs are, it’s based on a specific issue they’re trying to address."
With that in mind, the MNC — which is composed of five provincial Métis governments, including the Manitoba Metis Federation — began working on their own reconciliation plan. This one would not be through the courts, but done on what they aim for as a "nation-to-nation" basis with the government of Canada.
Last October, the MNC launched the current phase of its efforts in Winnipeg, with a national symposium on the Métis ’60s Scoop experience. That was quickly followed by the ongoing engagement sessions; after the Winnipeg event wraps this weekend, the MNC will continue on to Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto and Richmond, B.C.
Along with providing information about the Scoop itself and existing supports, the engagement sessions also allow survivors to speak about their own experiences, and give the MNC direction on what they need from Métis and non-Métis organizations to help heal from the harm of the Scoop.
On Saturday, many described wanting simply to have their voices heard in the discussion, as well as to be acknowledged and recognized as survivors. They also described a desire to reconnect Métis families splintered by the child-welfare system, to find family members still missing and receive mental-health support.
In addition, many survivors spoke of wanting to hear directly from the agencies that implemented the scoop, including the RCMP and child-welfare services, to get a better understanding of why Métis children were taken from their homes.
"There’s this information gap when it comes to understanding what really transpired," Morrisseau-Beck said. "Some are dealing with a lot of hardships in accessing their records. We are hearing they want some accountability, and want to hear from some of these agencies that have been part of that, the scooping of our children."
Nobody knows for certain how many Métis children were seized during the ’60s Scoop.
Records from the era can be patchy at best, and while the MNC is working to get a sense of the scope of the effect, Morrisseau-Beck thinks it’s unlikely they will ever get a clear number of how many Métis people were affected.
Some support efforts are already underway; in December the MNC launched a website to track reconciliation efforts and create a database of Métis survivors, which can be found at sixties.scoop.metisportals.ca. The MNC also plans to establish a toll-free number for Métis survivors to be connected to immediate counselling.
Once the engagement sessions are complete, the MNC plans to take the guidance from survivors and use that to shape future reconciliation negotiations with Ottawa.
"I think our people are ready for this, but we’ll need to make sure they are given all the supports that are needed," Morrisseau-Beck said. "Because this is really an opportunity to listen. We’re giving them a context and providing them some really good information so they can make that decision."
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.