Fool me once: Colonialism denial finds a happy home in Canadian media

Just one day after tens of thousands people took to the streets of Vancouver in support of reconciliation, the Nanaimo Daily News once again published a racist rant making it clear that for too many Canadians, reconciliation is really about soothing the discomfort of settlers who do not want to take responsibility for Canada’s annihilationist policies which continue to decimate Indigenous peoples. The article, by Bill McRitchie, once again exhorts us to “get over it”, because after all:

“…the world was a very different place in those eras [18th, 19th early 20th centuries]…

…The concept of human rights was virtually unknown…

…As our country matured and demographics changed through massive immigration and the evolution of our society, however, the playing field began to level.” – Bill McRitchie, Nanaimo Daily News, September 23, 2013

reactions

The reaction to this article was swift, and on point.

Ah yes. The old “bad things happened but they got better” trope I just finished discussing in my last article. But wait! There’s more!

“Unfortunately, the First Nations in Canada have tenaciously clung to their tribal system, refusing to evolve as equal Canadian citizens and perpetuating the perceived notion that they remain under the heel of non-aboriginals.

This notion has been effectively used to develop a strategy for making outrageous demands for land and taxpayer money.

I’m not a great believer in the sins of the father being visited upon the sons…” – Bill McRitchie, Nanaimo Daily News, September 23, 2013

Hugh Nicholson, the Nanaimo Daily News’  division manager issued an apology the last time the paper ran an article like this. I’d like to make a snarky comment about this clearly insincere apology reflecting the Residential School apology…oh wait, I think I just did.

The concept of human rights was virtually unknown; thus, the ruling class considered it their mandate and God-given right to subjugate the perceived lesser mortals who were considered unable to control their own destiny. Treaties were merely empty promises designed to overtly appease the indigenes while covertly exploiting them.

As our country matured and demographics changed through massive immigration and the evolution of our society, however, the playing field began to level.

Unfortunately, the First Nations in Canada have tenaciously clung to their tribal system, refusing to evolve as equal Canadian citizens and perpetuating the perceived notion that they remain under the heel of non-aboriginals.

This notion has been effectively used to develop a strategy for making outrageous demands for land and taxpayer money.

I’m not a great believer in the sins of the father being visited upon the sons. It is my opinion that no individual or groups of individuals should receive special treatment in Canada because of their ethnic, religious or historical backgrounds.

– See more at: http://www.nanaimodailynews.com/opinion/no-groups-in-canada-should-get-special-status-1.634561#sthash.PwcGGqVU.dpuf

The concept of human rights was virtually unknown; thus, the ruling class considered it their mandate and God-given right to subjugate the perceived lesser mortals who were considered unable to control their own destiny. Treaties were merely empty promises designed to overtly appease the indigenes while covertly exploiting them.

As our country matured and demographics changed through massive immigration and the evolution of our society, however, the playing field began to level.

Unfortunately, the First Nations in Canada have tenaciously clung to their tribal system, refusing to evolve as equal Canadian citizens and perpetuating the perceived notion that they remain under the heel of non-aboriginals.

This notion has been effectively used to develop a strategy for making outrageous demands for land and taxpayer money.

I’m not a great believer in the sins of the father being visited upon the sons. It is my opinion that no individual or groups of individuals should receive special treatment in Canada because of their ethnic, religious or historical backgrounds.

– See more at: http://www.nanaimodailynews.com/opinion/no-groups-in-canada-should-get-special-status-1.634561#sthash.PwcGGqVU.dpu

Things are not better, Hugh

I am addressing this article to Hugh Nicholson, the publisher of the Nanaimo Daily News, because he has direct power over the publication of articles like this, and Don Olsen’s racist rant earlier.

Hugh Nicholson is actively providing a venue for people like McRitchie and Olsen to basically engage in the popular Canadian equivalent of Holocaust denial. I make that comparison mindfully, because the most ‘successful’ Holocaust deniers do not claim that the Holocaust never happened at all…they minimise and distort the facts in order to claim it wasn’t nearly as bad as it was. They then claim that Jewish people use the Holocaust as an excuse to *insert racist accusation*.

However I do not want to conflate the issue and so I’d like to coin a new term if I may. I’m going to call the opinions of people like McRitchie and Olsen and Klassen, and Flanagan and oh so many others “Colonialism denial”. This denial often manifests itself as a recognition that colonialism happened, but that it is no longer a factor.

I have repeatedly addressed the claim that “bad things happened, but it’s better now”. I have linked to research on media narratives in Canadian newspapers which proves that narratives such as those published by Nicholson have hardly changed at all since 1869. James Daschuk also does a bang up job of showing how deliberate colonial policies of starvation ensured that TB gained a foothold on reserve, and continues to wreak havoc with Indigenous health under ‘modern’ policies. The recent reconciliation events in British Columbia are themselves a recognition that the policies of the not-distant past have had lasting and horrific effects on the social and physical health of Indigenous peoples.

empty promises designed to overtly appease the indigenes while covertly exploiting them – See more at: http://www.nanaimodailynews.com/opinion/no-groups-in-canada-should-get-special-status-1.634561#sthash.lSQg1tsS.dpuf

I have discussed the deliberate efforts of the Canadian government to destroy the ability of First Nations to farm successfully in the Prairies and provided a link to research on the topic. I have discussed the 60s scoop, and colonialism within the child welfare system that continues to this day. I have discussed how ‘modern’ treaty making differs only in words,  from those “empty promises designed to overtly appease the indigenes while covertly exploiting them” that McRitchie readily admits were the hallmark of the historic treaties. I have even shown how the 1969 White Paper, intended as an official piece of colonialism denial, has found a new home in the First Nations Property Ownership Act.

empty promises designed to overtly appease the indigenes while covertly exploiting them – See more at: http://www.nanaimodailynews.com/opinion/no-groups-in-canada-should-get-special-status-1.634561#sthash.lSQg1tsS.dpuf

ALL of these things are well documented with reams of peer-reviewed research available, with thousands of pages of official findings from commissions and inquests and so forth. The evidence is overwhelming: it is impossible to divorce the present from the past the way McRitchie et al. wish to do, and further, colonialism continues into the 21st century.

Sins of the fathers? Look to your own sins.

McRitchie attempts to separate himself from the ‘sins of the past’ by locating himself and all other Canadians in the 21st century; a century that is a scant 13 years old, by the way. Even if McRitchie were a 13 year old boy, he could not successfully ignore the events that have occurred in the lifetimes of those people still living today.

Canadians need to stop pretending that these evils happened only in the distant past. The unavoidable truth is that these evils happened in your own lifetimes, and what is worse, continue to happen. These are not merely the sins of your fathers or great-grandfathers, or great-great-great grandfathers. These are the sins of Canadians today in 2013 who engage in Colonialism denial, and who benefit from the continued  colonial practices of the Canadian state. Canadians have an obligation to learn about their own history so they can stop engaging in Colonialism denial through sheer ignorance. Failure to do so is a modern day sin no Canadian can blame on their fathers.

And to you, Hugh Nicholson. Shame on you. You published this latest piece of Colonialism denial just one day after Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike took to the streets in massive support of the need to make things better, truthfully, and together. If you have convinced yourself that your decision to publish this letter was an exercise in ‘journalistic balance’, save it. I refer you to your own words:

“The sentiments expressed were entirely his own and in no way reflect the views of the newspaper. The letter should not have run. We apologize for any distress this may have caused our readers.” - Hugh Nicholson, editorial clarification, March 2013

Your actions render this apology utterly meaningless. Your choice to publish this article does indeed reflect on this newspaper. Fool me once, shame on me.

Fool us twice? Shame on us if we don’t hold you to account for this.

We can’t get anywhere until we flip the narrative

Since December of 2012, and the rise of Idle No More events, there have been numerous “teach-ins” throughout the country. Some of them focused on the theme of reconciliation, others provided necessary background to those unfamiliar with the causes of ‘indigenous discontent’, while others attempted to provide a possible vision for the future. Whether you agree with a focus on education versus a widespread series of actions, it is clear that much work is needed to overcome some very pervasive and damaging stereotypes.

This year alone, we have seen some very telling opinions being given a public platform, all of which depict indigenous peoples in a… less than flattering light.

o-MORRIS-MIRROR-RACIST-EDITORIAL-CARTOON-570In January, the Morris Mirror ran an editorial by the community paper’s editor-in-chief Reed Turcotte, that likened us to terrorists and decried our “corruption and laziness”. Not to be outdone, 80-something Nanaimo resident Don Olsen submitted a letter to the editor in March, titled “Educate First Nations to become modern citizens“, detailing our supposed total lack of achievements and inability to survive in a modern world. The Calgary Herald rounded out this vituperative triumvirate with another letter to the editor by Martin Miller of Okotoks called “Equal partners” which demands that we stop oppressing the brow-beaten taxpayer with our endless demands.

The Morris Mirror experienced significant backlash and despite its claims to “represent the views of the local community”, local residents were quick to voice their disgust with the views expressed. Some businesses withdrew their ads from the publication in response.

karinklassen-hostshot

Karin Klassen, seasoned journalist and supporter of 60s Scoop policies.

The Nanaimo Daily also experienced negative publicity and lost ad revenue for its choice to publish Olsen’s letter. Unlike the Morris Mirror, the Nanaimo Daily offered a full-apology and withdrew the article. By then, a number of people had published rebuttals to the letter, including a very detailed one by Danica Denomme. In contrast, the Calgary Herald has not apologised or withdrawn Miller’s opinion piece.

In April, a BC NDP candidate resigned after some of her online comments about First Nations peoples came to light.

It didn’t stop there, of course. In July, a Calgary Herald journalist Karin Klassen wrote an article which in essence, defends the 60s Scoop and suggests that First Nations people are culturally unfit to parent. This opinion piece was not offered by a random citizen, but was delivered by a seasoned, paid journalist. In her article, she ignores all of the research on the subject in favour of a knee-jerk personal reaction supported by nothing more than her anecdotal experiences. At its very best, the article is an example of a gross lack of professionalism.

The fact that people are able to outright dismiss literally centuries of oppression as though this could have no possible impact on events today, never ceases to astound me. How is this even possible? Clearly the first step, as exemplified by Klassen, is to claim that good intentions negate oppression. Another tactic is to say, “those were different times”. This approach was taken by the son of a scientist behind nutritional experiments on First Nations children, who wrote to the media to justify the program.

A study of how Canadian English-language newspapers have portrayed Aboriginal peoples from 1869 to the present day.

A study of how Canadian English-language newspapers have portrayed Aboriginal peoples from 1869 to the present day.

When dealing with these kinds of opinions, one tends to have to weigh the pros and cons of ignoring them, or providing an often emotionally exhausting rebuttal. Native peoples and our allies are often faced with putting in extreme effort to refute and educate, but it can feel like we are making little progress.

The myth of progress

That feeling is unfortunately supported by extensive research. Anderson and Robertson’s “Seeing Red: A history of natives in Canadian newspapers” provides exhausting evidence of how little the narrative has changed in the media since 1869. In fact, Anderson and Robertson assert in their introduction that, “with respect to Aboriginal peoples, the colonial imaginary has thrived, even dominated, and continues to do so in mainstream English-language newspapers.” The imaginary to which they refer, is the way in which Canada has created an image of itself, based not so much on historical fact as on ideological interpretation. In doing so, Canada has necessarily had to rely upon an image of indigenous peoples which, as expressed recently by Turcotte, Olsen and Miller, portrays us as pretty much useless.

How is it that so little progress has been made to overcome this narrative in 144 years? Certainly the colonial myths which continue to dominate media discourse have existed for much longer than this. Yet one would hope that nearly a century and a half of technological and social development would see a corresponding shift in mainstream attitudes. Instead, we literally see the same arguments being made year after year after year.

Of course, the idea that Canadian society is evolving and progressing is an important part of the colonial imaginary. When Canadians consider the injustices faced by indigenous peoples, those injustices are nearly always located in the past. The irony of course is that every generation has located such injustice in the past, and only rarely in contemporary contexts. Were this actually true, no injustice could have possibly occurred ever, much less could be understood to continue today!

Canadians who do recognise historical injustice seem to understand it in this way:

  1. Bad things happened.
  2. Bad things stopped happening and equality was achieved.
  3. The low social and political status held by indigenous peoples is now wholly based on the choice to be corrupt, lazy, inefficient, and unsuited to the modern world.

In other words, there is no history of colonialism and systemic racism that informs the modern view of indigenous peoples, because that problem was solved at some point in the past. The real racism is in conflating legitimate dislike for indigenous peoples (based not on race or ethnicity but rather on the bad choices we make) with historic colonialism/racism which is over. In continuing to discuss colonialism and racism as a present-day concern, we are engaging in reverse-racism and oppressing blameless settlers.

cannot possibly be true

Some people feel that the real cause of racism is claims like those made in this comic.

Canada is hardly unique in this ahistorical approach. In the United States, slavery is also located in the distant past, and the belief that full equality was achieved at some nebulous but definite point is widely accepted (at least by Whites) as true. Thus anti-Black sentiment is based not on race but on true generalisations of all the bad choices Black people have made since they became equal. Even suggesting this view is untrue raises hackles.

Flip the narrative

The fact is, what we all learn about Canadian history is wrong. Every single one of us, native and non-native alike, have been fed a series of lies, half-truths and fantasies intended to create a cohesive national identity. What is most startling about this, is that a great many people are aware of the errors and omissions present in our system of education and in our public discourse, and yet somehow there has not yet been a national attempt to rectify this.

That is not to say no effort has been made. The inclusion of events into the mainstream consciousness that I only heard rumours about when I was in school, has been incredibly important. Acknowledging Japanese internment, the Chinese Head Tax, Residential Schools and a host of other less-than-inspiring events and policies has certainly taken us beyond the kind of starry-eyed propaganda served up for a long time in this country.

Nonetheless, integral to colonial narrative is belief in the superiority of European contributions and the absence of any truly important contribution from non-European peoples to Canadian society, except when narrowly defined within examples of successful integration and ‘up by their bootstraps’ stories. After all, if non-European and indigenous contributions were of any real value, wouldn’t we see them everywhere? Instead, all that is good and modern originated in Europe!

Not everyone states this as baldly as Mr. Olsen et al. but the sentiment is still widely shared. Which is incredibly sad, because Canada will not crumble and fall apart if we become more honest and aware of the history of these lands and the incredible diversity of contributions by peoples from all over the world.

The violence of national myths

A more accurate and less self-serving history, a more honest reality, is ours. It is our birthright, whether we have been in these lands for thousands of years, or arrived yesterday. We are all being denied a real identity, based on more than colonial myths intended to create a national identity out of thin air.

This is not an intelligent or useful way to approach history or construct a national identity.

This is not an intelligent or useful way to approach history or construct a national identity.

It is not only indigenous peoples who want to reclaim that birthright. There are millions of people living in this country who are trying to come to grips with their own personal histories, which more often than not, fail to accord with the official narrative. Unwed mothers who were pressured into giving up their babies for adoption, finding out that many of these babies were killed and buried instead. Black orphans who were horrifically abused by those who were supposed to protect them. Italians in Canada put into internment camps during WWII, and so very many more who have had to struggle to have their stories heard and believed.

These are all horrific stories, and they are only the tip of the iceberg, because most of us have heard only a fraction of them. The violence that national myths commit, is to delegitimise the very real pain that is the legacy of abuse and oppression. When these stories begin to surface, they are often treated as conspiracy theories. Even when incontrovertible proof is discovered, and the information becomes freely available, the overarching Canadian narrative obscures and confuses, splitting these events up into disparate and unconnected ‘unfortunate incidents’. Most Canadians will learn only a few of these stories, and will be unable to connect them to a wider history of colonialism. This means that nothing can change, as is made so clear in the book Seeing Red, and exemplified in articles like Klassen’s. How can we possibly learn from the past when this country is so invested in whitewashing it?

We all need to work on reclaiming our histories, but this cannot be an individual exercise, it absolutely must be a national one. We must share our histories and learn the histories of others, and our curriculum and media must reflect our evolving understandings.

Right now, indigenous peoples are trying very hard to share our histories. Whether this will create a new chapter in Anderson and Robertson’s research is going to depend on whether or not Canadians are finally willing to listen.

 

A shorter version of this article was published on Huffington Post Canada.

Canada, it’s time. We need to fix this in our generation.

Chief Spence on Victoria Island.

Chief Spence on Victoria Island.

Today is December 16, 2012 and Chief Theresa Spence has been on a hunger strike for six days.

Contrary to what some media outlets are reporting, she is not doing this only to protest Bill C-45 or even the deplorable treatment her community has received since declaring an emergency last year. She has vowed to continue her hunger strike until the prime minister, the Queen or a representative, agrees to sit down in good faith with First Nations leaders to rebuild what has become a fractured and abusive relationship. She is staying in a tipi on Victoria Island, which sits below Parliament and the Supreme Court of Canada.

Many native people across the country have been fasting to show their solidarity with Chief Spence, including Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus. Just search the twitter hashtag #TheresaSpence to get a sense of how much support this woman has from our peoples.

Jingle dancers from Whitefish Bay, bring their medicine to Theresa Spence on Victoria Island.

Funds were raised to help 3 jingle dancers and song carriers from Whitefish Bay (where the jingle dance, a healing dance originated) get to Victoria Island to honour Chief Spence. About 30 women from various communities participated in this event.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has issued a statement asking for as many people as possible to converge on Ottawa to support Chief Spence, at to demand that action be taken now to deal with long ignored indigenous concerns. The Assembly of First Nations published an open letter to the Governor General and to Stephen Harper to meet with Chief Spence saying:

“The Government of Canada has not upheld nor fulfilled its responsibilities to First Nations, as committed to by the Crown including at the Crown-First Nations Gathering January 2012.  Canada has not upheld the Honour of the Crown in its dealings with First Nations, as evidenced in its inadequate and inequitable funding relationships with our Nations and its ongoing actions in bringing forward legislative and policy changes that will directly impact on the Inherent and Treaty Rights of First Nations. Treaties are international in nature and further indigenous rights are human rights, both collective and individual and must be honoured and respected.”

Protesters in Halifax on December 16th.

Protesters in Halifax on December 16th, photo by Bryson Syliboy.

The Idle No More movement has been busy, with actions occurring all across the country in support of Chief Spence and in support of her message that the relationship between indigenous peoples and the Crown needs serious mending, now.  Not all of these actions are being reported, so if you want to know what’s actually going on, it’s worth your while to follow the #idlenomore hashtag on twitter. People are protesting peacefully and legally blockading roads as well as staging ‘teach ins’.  Many more actions are being planned.

We are not going away. These issues are not going to go away. Canada, it’s time. We have to fix this relationship in our generation.

We all know that reading comments sections can be hazardous for your mental health, but there are some themes that continue to come up again and again any time native people are discussed in the media, and we need to address these beliefs.  I have been trying my best on this blog to refute the myths and stereotypes, but I don’t have all the free time in the world that I’d like, and so my ‘myth-busting list‘ remains unfinished.

Nonetheless, I am asking for the help of Canadians to combat these ugly lies. I make this plea, because these lies allow people like Stephen Harper to ignore a hunger strike. These lies allow people to throw up their hands in disgust and claim that native people are freeloading whiners who need to shut up and go away. These lies allow a nation to ignore its own history, to erase its own volition, to believe that someone else will fix this problem.

Protestors from Morley, Alberta, block the TransCanada Highway.

Protestors from Morley, Alberta, block the TransCanada Highway.

Politicians won’t be the ones to fix what’s wrong with Canada and its relationship with indigenous peoples. This is a job for regular people, dealing with one another as human beings, and right now indigenous people in this country are not being treated humanely.

So I’ve compiled a list of stereotypes and lies that I think need to stop being spread and passed around as truth. Where possible, I’ve linked information to help dispel these harmful myths. I’d like to call this list the “READ A BOOK!” list, because I know that a lot of us want to scream this when we read those hateful comments saying these things over, and over again.

Here are some of my Read A Book list of things Canadians absolutely need to stop believing about us:

Native people don’t pay taxes omg!

Actually, most of the over 1 million aboriginal people in this country do in fact pay taxes.  The tax exemption people apparently know so little about applies to only about 250,000 people in the whole country and is extremely narrow.

Native people get free houses blaaargh!

There are social housing units available on some reserves, but this is under a program that is also available to other low-income populations throughout Canada, and the number of people actually accessing these social housing units are vastly overrated in the minds of most Canadians.

 

We need Canadians to be Idle No More too.

We need Canadians to be Idle No More too.

Native people get free post-secondary education grrrr!

Only some Status Indians actually living on reserve are eligible for any sort of Federal funding for post-secondary studies.  Inuit only receive federal funding if they live outside Nunavut or the Northwest Territories for a full year. Non-status Indians, and Métis are not eligible and a great many Status Indian living on reserve who apply for this funding are turned down. As of 2006, only 3% of registered Status Indians had a post-secondary degree compared to 18% among the general Canadian population.

Native leaders are all corrupt and super rich and that’s why their people are poor aaaargh!

This is the most common accusation thrown around it seems, with little in the way of evidence to back it up. Even Stephen Harper let himself rely on this stereotype to point the finger of blame at Chief Spence back when Attawapiskat first declared its housing emergency. The logical fallacy invoked in this repeated accusation, treated as common knowledge is rarely questioned and is tossed out there even when the Federal Court finds no evidence of such. I have no idea what it is going to take to get so many Canadians to stop saying this as though it is established fact, when in fact it is only established prejudice. In a nation packed to the teeth with political corruption, it is staggering to witness the vitriol hurled at native communities when those communities are some of the most highly regulated and federally controlled places in Canada.  I’d love to go into this in more detail, and at some point I will, but let’s leave it at this: these claims lack evidence and need to stop being presented as established truth.

Native people are lazy, don’t work, cry about things long over and everything that happens to them is their own fault, RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWR!

Indigenous issues affect all Canadians. The relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples is unlike Canada's relationship with any other group of people, and needs to be better understood, and respected.

Indigenous issues affect all Canadians. The relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples is unlike Canada’s relationship with any other group of people, and needs to be better understood, and respected.

I’m not even going to try to find a source that can refute this blatantly racist belief. There’s just too much packed into it. Stop. Stop using anecdotes about some guy you knew once. Stop saying you lived by a reserve and you know it all. Stop saying that our concerns are not legitimate. Stop denying the colonial relationship that has never ended in this country. Stop pretending that colonialism is our fault.

Stop pretending you can’t do something to change things.

There are more ugly things being said about us, all of which will become more and more virulent as the days pass and this movement grows. If you need to confront more of these beliefs, the “Sh*t Canadians say to Aboriginal Women” video will quickly bring you up to speed on the kinds of things some Canadians are saying about us right now any time our issues are raised in the media.

Don’t let this continue, Canada. Together we need to make a change. That is what Chief Spence is asking for. That is what indigenous peoples are asking for.

Many Canadians have been asking, “what can I do to help?” This is something you can do. Understand the issues yourself, and help other Canadians understand them better too. Don’t let these beliefs remain “common knowledge” any longer. Challenge them, and challenge the politicians who rely on these stereotypes in order to justify ongoing colonialism. Support Idle No More. Demand that Stephen Harper meet with Chief Spence and other leaders. Demand change.

Make change.

Live change.

For all our sakes.

The Stolen Generation(s).

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.  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.  Similar policies  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.  I recognise that some people will find my style overly hyperbolic.  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.

Some survivors of the 60s scoop are pursuing a class action lawsuit against the province of Ontario and Canada.

However, the federal government has been asserting its authority over “Indians and Lands of the Indians” since 1763.  While is still remains unclear whether this includes all Inuit and Métis, 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.  The development of social programs and services has been incremental.  Before the mid 1960s, there was no organised federal child welfare system.  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.  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.  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 “unfit.”

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.  This was a pattern that repeated itself all across Canada.

Survivors have been trying for years to be heard. To learn more about the legal struggle, click on the picture above.

There is evidence that at least 11,132 Status Indian children were removed from their homes between 1960 and 1990.  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.  Some estimate the number, which included non-Status and Métis children, is more like 20,000.

Being from a native family was often enough to have a child declared in need of intervention.  This process resulted in thousands of indigenous peoples being raised without their culture, their language, and without learning anything about their communities.  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.  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.

In 1982, Manitoba Judge Edwin C. Kimelman was appointed to head an inquiry into the Child Welfare system and how it was impacting native peoples.  He had this to say:

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 problems—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.

Joseph Tisiga explores the intergenerational impact of the 60s scoop in his piece "With Friends".

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.  Aboriginal children are 6 to 8 times more likely to be placed in foster care than non-native children.  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.

…[this] over representation…is not rooted in their indigenous race, culture and ethnicity.  Rather, any family with children who has experienced the same colonial history and the resultant poverty, social and community disorganization…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.  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.  The stories regardless of the background of the child will chill your blood, and rightfully so.  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.  Something that cannot be chalked up to just bad parenting.

Overcrowded conditions in Pikangikum First Nation.

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.  Overcrowding, lack of indoor plumbing or potable water, mould-infested homes and crumbling infrastructure all play a part in what constitutes “inadequate housing”.  It is also a factor that is rarely something the families in question can directly control.  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

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.  There is no denying it.  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.  Real change needs to occur, and it’s going to start with the story being fully understood.

Many thanks for listening.