to the Sixties Scoop Case
Native Children and the Child Welfare System
by Doug George-Kanentiio
On February 14 Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba made a historic
ruling by holding Canada responsible for the pain and suffering endured by over
16,000 Native children taken from their communities and placed in foster homes
across the Canadian province and into the United States.
The federal government took an active role in ripping the children from their
families resulting in psychological, spiritual and physical harm. The children
were placed into non-Native residences and stripped of their heritage. In many
instances the placements were done without background checks and often to the
Despite its promise to work with Native governments to assure the safety and
security of the children virtually no follow up was done once they disappeared
into the foster care system. Many thousands of these children were lost to their
people with the result that families were shattered and the children sent into a
The consequences were predictable: abnormally high rates of alcoholism, drug
abuse and suicide as the children grew older without the means to resolve the
deep feelings of insecurity and low self esteem.
I know this as a survivor of the foster home system, as a former 'ward" of the
federal government who had the absolute power to place me and my siblings in
whatever place they deemed convenient, first in the notorious residential
schools and then in a series of residences. By the time I was 17 I had been in
15 different foster "homes" some for as little as a weekend and others for a
school year. Each "home" received a monthly allowance for our care. We never
felt a sense of affection or acceptance but knew we were sources of income and
In this for-profit arrangement keeping cost low was the rule so our diets,
housing and clothing were kept at the very minimum. Hunger was at the edge of
our daily lives and we learned shame because of the obvious poverty in our
dress. Mistrust grew as a natural consequence as was rage and the need to strike
out at anything resembling authority. We were not born bad but many of us were
labeled as so because we fought back in whatever way we could
June of 1968 my brothers and I, along with most of the Akwesasne Mohawks (the
"St. Regis Boys") were expelled from the Mohawk Institute. We were pleased to
have left that terrible place behind only to be met by social workers once we
were on the bus taking us from the train station in Cornwall to our home in
Kanatakon-St. Regis. This interception took my brothers and I to a foster home,
which began a very tough five years. The social welfare barriers prevented us
from joining our brothers and sisters despite our pleas to do so.
We were not alone in our despair as many other Akwesasne children went through
the same experiences.
A decade ago a courageous woman named Marcia Brown Martel contacted the
Wilson-Christen law firm in Toronto to seek redress for her suffering as one of
the 16,000. It took years but the firm worked its way through the legal system,
providing clear evidence of demonstrable harm not only endured by herself but on
behalf of every Native child who went through the system.
Canada waged a counter action but its defenses were weak and unconvincing. The
federal government enacted the laws and policies which the provinces used to
take the children under the assumption that life in a non-Native home was
preferable to an aboriginal one. It also was held liable for its methods to wipe
out Native identity, and at times actual band membership, in its decades long
practice of cultural assimilation
No thought was given to what the child wanted or needed. Nor were the band
councils prepared to challenge federal or provincial adoption and foster care
policies. Some bands felt they had no choice but to take an active, if coercive,
part in removing the children over the objections of their families and often at
the threat of arrest.
Ms. Martel is from the Temagami community and, against the odds, found her way
back home to assume a leadership role for her people.
So devastating was the February 14 ruling that Canada gave up its right to
appeal and is now pressing for a quick resolution which will include financial
compensation to the foster children now called the "Sixties Scoop", a term used
by Patrick Johnston in his 1983 report entitled "Native Children and the Child
Welfare System". It refers to the 1960's when the act of removal was accelerated
across the nation.
It is now up to us as to what we would deem appropriate. The amount sought by
the lawyers is $1.3 billion which Canada will apparently not contest.
But taking money is not enough. We have been through this before with the
residential school settlements. We have also been in consultation with the
Province of Ontario to seek its own reconciliation with the former students.
We have submitted to Ontario our ideas which range from a permanent archives to
the construction of a healing center and the active recording of our troubled
times for the benefit of those Mohawks yet unborn. We are seeking a trust fund
to free the survivors so they can teach and take a creative part in the healing
For those who have yet to sign up as claimants they can call the Wilson-Christen
law firm at 416-360-5952 or by calling Natalie Graham at 416-956-5625. The web
site firstname.lastname@example.org has more information.
We all lost something important when we were taken from our homes. It cost us
our childhood and Akwesasne lost the talents and potential of those whom we call
"gifts from the Creator".