How a destructive effect on Aboriginal Identity.

 

How Canada Painted a
Generation White

 

Research
Essay on the Sixties Scoop

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By Fatima Ahmed

Ms. Ferry

CHC 2D

Due December 20/17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Canada Painted a Generation White

Hidden
under the shadows of Residential schools lies an inhumane part of Canada’s
assimilation history – the Sixties Scoop. This is a term used to refer to the
time period in Canadian history in which there was a mass removal of indigenous
children from their families and communities and into foster or adoptive care
of non-aboriginal families. The Sixties Scoop has undeniably had a lasting
effect on  Canadian History. This
traumatic time period has played a major role in: culture and language;
personal identity; indigenous rights; and law and politics. The Sixties Scoop
has had a destructive effect on the Aboriginal identity; has brought attention
to and changed corrupt welfare laws and adoption rights; and has contributed to
the loss of a collective culture.

The
Sixties Scoop has had a destructive effect on Aboriginal Identity. For some lucky
children, their new caregivers allowed them to explore their cultural identity.
However, the majority of others were never able to confirm their true heritage.
 Lynn Thomson, a victim of the Sixties Scoop said: “You had to be
something other than native because it had such a bad connotation to it,”
(Petrow).  They spent years being ashamed of their differences, and have
internalized this constant racism. Aboriginal children were encouraged to
forget their heritage and imitate the behavior of their new white families
(Hanson).  However, the impossibility of having to adapt to assimilative
expectations and trying to recreate white genetic traits resulted in
irresolvable identity crises.

            These unresolved identity issues affect the
performance of the child in adulthood, and prevent him from progressing in
society. Children, like Thomson, who have reconnected with their roots, feel
isolated between their rediscovered indigenous families and the white
communities they grew up in. With a confused sense of self, they are unable to
form healthy and mature relationships in adult life (O’Connor).  Dr Leo
Steiner, the head of the Aboriginal Community Crisis Team at Toronto East
General Hospital says: “A child who is conflicted about his identity is
severely handicapped… In adulthood, he often develops a self-centered,
impulse-pleasing, self-destructive lifestyle.” Growing up in homes where they
have no way to understand who they are as individuals, and in many cases, facing
constant abuse; they experience psychological and emotional problems. Many
children break off their adoptions at 18, or run away from adoptive and foster
homes during adolescence (Dolha). As a result, they have no foundation to build
a healthy life on. Simply put, because they do not know where they came from,
they do not know where they want to go. They are not held to the same standards
as the white families they grew up with, and have no role models that look like
them, that they may aspire to. This loss of identity is a key component of the
overall attempt to assimilate Aboriginal culture.

To
assimilate into a culture, one must take away the parental influence in order
to only allow the child access to information outside of that culture – which
is exactly what the Canadian Government did in residential schools, and then
during the Sixties Scoop. In this way, the Sixties Scoop affected Canadian
history by practicing cultural genocide against the Indigenous people. Through
the Sixties Scoop, the Canadian government essentially prevented the
development of the Aboriginal culture. Children are highly valued in all
Aboriginal communities, as they are the key to preserving culture through an
intergenerational process of knowledge (O’Connor). By removing children from
their communities, Provincial welfare systems destroyed this framework of
knowledge by repressing traditional educational methods, and therefore
preventing cultural development and continuity. Furthermore, through the
Sixties Scoop, the government weakened family structures, thus weakening
aboriginal society. Sometimes children became permanently estranged from their
families; Aboriginal surnames acted as postal codes that indicated where a
child was from, and during their adoption processes their family names were
taken away (O’Connor). In some cases, personal histories completely vanished
because of incomplete, false, or missing adoption records. This has meant that
countless stolen children are unable to reconnect with their families.
 Maria Brown Martel, a victim of the Scoop, says that after she was
apprehended at the age of nine, her name was changed. When she attempted to
reconnect with her birth family at 18, she found that a federal register listed
her as deceased under her original name. The children that were able to find
their families were unable to connect with their past because of the loss of
their native language. Brown Martel claims that when she found her birth
parents, the absence of her Ojibwe language made connecting with her family
extremely difficult: “How do you talk about your emotions when you cannot even
speak the words?”(Bokma). Brown Martel’s story parallels that of countless
other families that were unable to reconnect after the Sixties Scoop. The sheer
number of Aboriginal families that were torn apart during the Sixties Scoop is
evident through the increase in the number of children in the welfare system:
In the 1950’s, Aboriginal children made up only one percent of the welfare
system. However, by the 1960’s, they accounted for more than one third
(Sinclair). Ultimately, the Sixties Scoop destroyed the close-knit Aboriginal
community by causing families to be unable to reconnect, contributing to the
overall loss of Aboriginal culture.

The
loss of the collective Aboriginal culture has inspired a mass political
movement in hopes of reconciliation. In 2009, Marcia Brown Martel filed a class
action lawsuit against the Canadian government on behalf of almost 1, 200 other
victims of the Sixties Scoop. However, it took until February 1st, 2017 for the
federal government to be ready to negotiate the $1.3 billion dollar lawsuit. On
October 6, Ontario Supreme Court Judge Edward Belobaba ruled in favor of the
Sixties Scoop victims, announcing a 800 million dollar settlement (Perkel).
This lawsuit held Canada to its constitutional responsibility to protect and
preserve the Aboriginal culture and brought attention to the fact that so many
children lost their cultural identities. Jeffrey Wilson, the lawyer that
represented the victims says that: “This is the first case in the western world
where Indigenous people have come forward to say that culture is as important
as land, fishing, and hunting rights” (Perkel). This claim has brought
attention to the lost generation created by the Sixties Scoop. It proves that
Canada has turned a blind eye towards the wellbeing of children who lost their
cultural identity, immediate and extended families, communities, language,
spirituality, traditions, and customs (About the Sixties Scoop Claim). Although
$800 million may never be enough to compensate for these devastating losses,
Wilson believes that “Canada really is a hero, because this is the first
country, in a world of increasing divisiveness that has said we respect and
recognize the right to a cultural identity.” The acknowledgement of the
suffering of victims of the Sixties Scoop is a step towards preventing cultural
genocide in the future, and providing support to those who have already
suffered.

The
process of providing support to the victims begins with acknowledging the
faults within the Canadian welfare system. The results of the Sixties Scoop
have shown that the welfare system was faulty because its workers lacked
understanding of aboriginal culture; therefore they promoted negative
assumptions against Indigenous people. Welfare workers did not understand or
approve of Aboriginal culture; instead their own cultural superiority was a
driving force behind the Sixties Scoop. Their views on a healthy family and
community life were based on their own white, middle-class values. Cultural
activities such as fishing and carving, having a diet of dried game and
berries, was labeled as “inadequate care,” and the belief that a child had as
many parents that took care of them as there were adults in the community was
labeled as “improper supervision.” Their attitude towards the Indigenous
families was condescending, which goes to show how mainstream Canadian society
did not hold Aboriginal families and culture in high regard. Instead, they
chose to assimilate a generation by placing them in families and communities
they considered “normal.” The Saskatchewan Social Services department set up a
program called AIM, (Adopt Indian and Métis), which specifically targeted
Indigenous families with the goal of adopting out their children into white
families. The Province also funded the advertisement of Indigenous children on
television, over the radio, and in newspapers to convince white families to
adopt Indigenous children. The Canadian Digital archives have countless
advertisements with misleading titles such as, “Out Of Nowhere, Into Here:
Protect a Métis child from having a lonely, uncertain future” (Stevenson). In
1971, the Métis Society of Saskatchewan challenged the use of these ads through
several campaigns against the government department responsible for this
program; they believe that “These ads are racist
propaganda against the Métis and Indian people.” The AIM program was
detrimental towards the Indigenous Community because it encouraged the idea
that all Indigenous and Métis parents were unable to look after their children;
the ads suggested that Indigenous children were so unwanted and desperate for
new homes that they would accept any new family (Stevenson). In this way, the
welfare system demonstrated insensitivity towards Aboriginal people, as they
were stereotyped as incapable and unfit parents.

When
people became aware of the welfare systems insensitivity towards Aboriginal
people, policies were changed in order to prevent a recurrence of the Sixties
Scoop. In Manitoba, Indigenous people were shocked at the out-of-province
removals of Aboriginal children. Statistics revealed that fifty-five percent of
children that were moved to out-of-province adoption homes in 1981 were sent to
the United States (Dolha). In 1982, after facing severe criticism, Manitoba
banned out-of-province adoptions and appointed Judge Edwin C Kimmelman to lead
an inquiry into the provincial welfare system and its effect on Aboriginal people.
After reviewing 93 adoption cases, Kimmelman found that nothing had gone
towards finding aboriginal children aboriginal homes, and that Manitoba on its
own had placed up to 3000 documented children into white homes over a period of
twenty years. (Dolha). During this time, the number of Indigenous and Métis
children made up 7.5 percent of the total population of Manitoba, but accounted
for 41.9 percent of the children in foster and adoptive homes (Sinclair). In
his final review in 1985, called No Quiet Place: Review Committee on Indian and
Métis Adoptions and Placements, Kimmelman stated that: “Cultural genocide has
been taking place in a systematic, routine manner,” which was caused by an
“abysmal lack of sensitivity to children and families” (Aboriginal Justice
Implementation Commission). Kimmelman recommended several changes to the
Manitoba child welfare legislation, including consideration of “the child’s
cultural and linguistic heritage,” as well as the implementation of cultural
awareness training for any welfare worker involved with the Aboriginal
community (Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission). Another one of his
recommendations was that “greater use be made of the extended family” and that
the “adoption into a non-aboriginal home be used only as a last resort.”
(Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission). For this reason, the welfare
policy was changed to prioritize extended family members and then another
Indigenous family, before the child could be placed in a non-aboriginal home.
His report also inspired other changes in 1990, when the federal government
created the First Nations Child and Family Services Program (FNCFS). This
allowed Indigenous councils to administer their own child and family services
on reserves, in accordance with provincial and territorial welfare legislations
(Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission).

From
the early 1960’s to the late 1980’s, the government turned a blind eye to the
traumatic effects of the Sixties Scoop, a time period which left a deep scar in
Canadian history. The Sixties Scoop had a destructive effect on the Aboriginal
Identity, which in turn prevented Indigenous individuals from progressing in
society. Additionally, The Sixties Scoop was responsible for the genocide of
the Indigenous culture, and resulted in a present day political movement
towards reconciliation. Finally, the Sixties Scoop brought attention to the
injustices towards Indigenous children and families within Canada’s welfare
system, which inspired changes towards a better future. After residential
schools, the child welfare system became Canada’s new form of colonization,
which mainstream society considered to be “for the best.” The practice of
kidnapping children from their homes was disguised as placement into foster care;
the heartbroken parents left behind were labeled as negligent and incompetent.
In their attempt to paint their nation white, Canadians tried to remove the
Indigenous people from their history, but they forgot that Canada’s history
began with the Indigenous.