(By Michelle K. Allan, Queen’s University)
In October, Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett made a long-awaited announcement: the Canadian Government reached an agreement with Indigenous survivors of the Sixties Scoop. Thousands of now-adult First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children forcibly removed from their birth families and placed in non-Indigenous homes are eligible to apply for compensation. The settlement is $800 million, with $50
million towards a foundation for reconciliation, and the remaining $750 million is to be allocated to survivors. Initially, this sum may sound like a lot of money, however, it only ends up being between 25 to 50 thousand per claimant.
Coined in Patrick Johnsons’ 1983 report Native Children and the Child Welfare System, the term “sixties scoop” refers to the mass removal (or “scoop”) Indigenous children from their families and subsequent placement in the child welfare system. This was rarely done with consent of the families, and the children were usually placed in middle class white homes. While the apprehension of Aboriginal children had been occurring well before the 1960s, the practice saw a surge during this time period. It echoes the ideas behind the Residential school system- taking Indigenous children from their communities in an effort to provide a more “civilized” upbringing.
While some may be tempted to criticized the Government’s decision to compensate Indigenous peoples affected by the scoop and deem it as an unnecessary expenditure, this criticism would be misplaced and highly selective. Where was Ottawa’s frugality when $110,336.51 in legal fees was spent defending the right to deny coverage for a teenage Cree girl’s orthodontic treatment that would have cost a mere $6,000? Where was this penny pinching attitude during the government’s sponsorship of the erection, upkeep and operation of 80+ residential schools?
Considering the extreme amount of money, the Government has spent committing and defending atrocities against Indigenous peoples, it would seem more than reasonable to invest in attempts at reconciliation. If a survivor receives 25 thousand dollars, that amounts to no more than four dollars per day of lost childhood. In context, it seems a paltry sum of money.
Jeffery Wilson, a lawyer representing Ontario “scoop” survivors in the class action, stated in an interview that “No amount of money can compensate for the harm that was suffered, but it’s a step in the right direction.” He noted that last month’s settlement excludes Inuit, Métis and, non-status Indigenous Peoples due to incomplete records and missing data on Metis populations. The class action stipulates that only Status First Nations people are eligible to claim reparations. Due to predictable barriers, in many cases survivors have searched tirelessly for birth or treaty records only to find the records were lost, destroyed, or never existed in the first place.
It is reasonable to attempt to heal trauma by way of monetary compensation, but at the end of the day, no amount of money can change the past. On the other hand, the government’s forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families isn’t merely an issue of the past. According to a 2011 census, Aboriginal children accounted for 7% of all children in Canada but nearly onehalf (48%) of Canadian children in foster care. A 2016 study published by Statistics Canada that among the 11,700 (out of a total 14,000) First Nations foster children surveyed, only 37% were living with at least one foster parent who also identified as First Nations. In other words, thousands of Indigenous children continue to suffer the trauma of losing their families, identities and culture. Reserve education, welfare, and social services are notoriously underfunded, making families more vulnerable to disruption and state intervention. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the federal government’s underfunding of welfare services on reserves was an act of discrimination that left thousands of Indigenous children at risk. The drastic overrepresentation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system may have slowed since the 60s, but it has not stopped.
Throwing additional money at the symptoms of a societal problem won’t necessarily make the problem disappear. However, removing Indigenous children from their families and communities is nothing other than forcible assimilation in a different mask. A selective reparations package is not sufficient– Canada can and needs to do more. The cultural genocide committed against Indigenous peoples is the most despicable chapter in Canadian history, and we must refuse to make it our future.
Blackstock, Cindy (cblackst). “Think about it. If a 60’s scoop survivor receives 25K then they get about $3.80 per day of their lost childhood; $7.60 if they receive 50K.” October 6th 2017, 1:09 PM. Tweet.
Carreiro, Donna. 2016. “Sixties Scoop survivors say birth records ‘mysteriously’ lost or destroyed.” CBC News.
Galloway, Gloria. 2017. “Ottawa discriminated against aboriginal children by underfunding services, tribunal to rule.” The Globe and Mail, March 25.
Johnson, Patrick. 1983. Native Children and the Child Welfare System. Toronto: Canadian Council on Social Development in association with James Lorimer & Co.
Monkman, Lenard. 2017. “Sixties Scoop compensation excludes Métis, non-status Indigenous Peoples.” CBC News. October 6.
Statistics Canada. 2016. 2011 National Household Survey. Census, the Government of Canada.
Tasker, John Paul. 2017. “Ottawa announces $800M settlement with Indigenous survivors of Sixties Scoop.” CBC News. October 5.
Tasker, John Paul. 2017. “Ottawa spent $110K in legal fees fighting First Nations girl over $6K dental procedure.” CBC News. September 29.
Turner, Annie. 2016. Living arrangements of Aboriginal children aged 14 and under. Study, Insights on Canadian Society , Statistics Canada.