If you’ve ever heard the term “60s scoop” and thought it had something to do with ice-cream in the old days, I’m here to enlighten you.
I prefer the term Stolen Generations, because the scooping I’m about to discuss did not end in the 60s.Â In fact, many argue that it didn’t end with a single generation either, and perhaps hasn’t actually ended at all… hence the title.Â Similar policiesÂ were put into place in Australia with equally unhappy results.
You could delve into this sordid history and lose many hours uncovering details, but I’ll provide you with a brief outline and enough links to allow you to do that digging if you wish.Â I recognise that some people will find my style overly hyperbolic.Â Personally, I don’t feel I’m able to give these topics justice in the short space I’m allowing myself.
Adoption as Cultural Annihilation
It is important to remember that many of the services Canadians take for granted, such as education, health care, and social welfare programs are in the main, designed and administered by the provinces and territories.
However, the federal government has been asserting its authority over “Indians and Lands of the Indians” since 1763.Â While is still remains unclear whether this includes all Inuit and MĂ©tis, it remains true that First Nations must turn to the federal government, not the provinces, for many services.
Canada did not spring from the skull of Zeus fully formed.Â The development of social programs and services has been incremental.Â Before the mid 1960s, there was no organised federal child welfare system.Â The provinces each had their own system, but nothing was in place for First Nations people.
In the mid 60s, agreements started to be formed between the federal and provincial governments to provide some child welfare coverage in First Nations communities.Â To be brief, the approach was “take first, ask questions later (if ever)”.
The similarity to tactics used during the height of the Residential School system is eerie.Â Aboriginal children were taken en masse from their families and adopted out into non-native families:
Child welfare workers removed Aboriginal children from their families and communities because they felt the best homes for the children were not Aboriginal homes. The ideal home would instill the values and lifestyles with which the child welfare workers themselves were familiar: white, middle-class homes in white, middle-class neighbourhoods. Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal parents and families were deemed to be â€śunfit.â€ť
Research has shown that in British Columbia alone, the percentage of native children in the care of the Child Welfare system went from almost none, to one-third in only 10 years as a result of this expansion.Â This was a pattern that repeated itself all across Canada.
There is evidence that at least 11,132 Status Indian children were removed from their homes between 1960 and 1990.Â However, it is clear the numbers are in fact much higher than this, as birth records were often closed and Status not marked down on foster records.Â Some estimate the number, which included non-Status and MĂ©tis children, is more like 20,000.
Being from a native family was often enough to have a child declared in need of intervention.Â This process resulted in thousands of indigenous peoples being raised without their culture, their language, and without learning anything about their communities.Â Reclaiming that heritage has been a painful and difficult journey not only for the adoptees themselves, but often also for their families.
The 60s scoop picked up where Residential Schools left off, removing children from their homes, and producing cultural amputees.
Child Welfare reforms not working
In the late 70s, it was recognised that the approach up to that point was inadequate.Â There were efforts made to turn more power over to First Nations themselves and to keep children in their communities rather than being adopted out across Canada, into the US and even overseas.
It would be reassuring if blame could be laid to any single part of the system. The appalling reality is that everyone involved believed they were doing their best and stood firm in their belief that the system was working well. Some administrators took the ostrich approach to child welfare problemsâ€”they just did not exist. The miracle is that there were not more children lost in this system run by so many well-intentioned people. The road to hell was paved with good intentions, and the child welfare system was the paving contractor.
Nor was this his strongest condemnation of the process, and he made it clear that the system was a form of cultural genocide.
Unfortunately, by 2002 over 22,500 native children were in foster care across Canada, more than the total taken during the 60s scoop and certainly more than had been taken to Residential Schools.Â Aboriginal children are 6 to 8 times more likely to be placed in foster care than non-native children.Â To ignore the repeated attempts to annihilate aboriginal cultures and instead place the blame solely on ‘dysfunctional native families’ is to take an utterly ahistorical and abusive view.
â€¦[this] over representationâ€¦is not rooted in their indigenous race, culture and ethnicity.Â Rather, any family with children who has experienced the same colonial history and the resultant poverty, social and community disorganizationâ€¦may find themselves in a similar situation.
Systemic discrimination and underfunding
On April 18th, an historic ruling came down from the Federal Court regarding the underfunding of Child Welfare services on reserve.Â This case is a judicial review of a decision made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal,which dismissed the claims on a technicality.
The Federal Court has sent the case back to the CHRT for a full hearing.
Repeated studies have shown funding for child welfare on reserves is far below that available to children off-reserve and results in far lower levels of service. In particular, the lack of funds available for programs that can help families before they are broken up results in far higher rates of children being taken into foster care on reserves than off reserves.
The rate of foster care for reserve children is about eight times that of non-aboriginal children, concluded former Auditor General Sheila Fraser in 2008.
When the complaint was filed, the federal government generally spent about 78 cents on child welfare on reserves for every dollar spent by the provinces for children on reserves.
No situation involving children in need of protective services is a happy one.Â The stories regardless of the background of the child will chill your blood, and rightfully so.Â But when only 21% of children in a province like Manitoba are native, yet account for 84% of children in permanent care, something is deeply, and terribly wrong.Â Something that cannot be chalked up to just bad parenting.
What makes the situation even more troubling, is the fact that deplorably common conditions found on reserve work against families, not only resulting in children being removed, but also making family reunification out of reach for many.
The main reason aboriginal children enter the child protection system is due to “neglect” (with significantly lower rates of physical abuse than is experienced by non-native children in child welfare cases).
Neglect in cases involving aboriginal children is “driven primarily by 3 structural risk factors: poverty, inadequate housing and substance misuse.”
Inadequate housing is a serious, systemic problem in many First Nations communities.Â Overcrowding, lack of indoor plumbing or potable water, mould-infested homes and crumbling infrastructure all play a part in what constitutes “inadequate housing”.Â It is also a factor that is rarely something the families in question can directly control.Â Attawapiskat recently provided stark evidence of this.
Aboriginal children, and their families, are being punished for being faced with unacceptable living conditions that no one living in Canada should have to contend with.Â
The legacy of over a 100 years of concerted cultural abuse, particularly directed at taking children away from their families, has taken its toll on our communities.Â There is no denying it.Â In my opinion, the question now needs to be…will Canada acknowledge this and do what it takes to redress these wrongs?
Money alone is not going to solve this problem.Â Real change needs to occur, and it’s going to start with the story being fully understood.
Many thanks for listening.