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Hey, Remember When Aboriginal Kids Were Forced Into White Families?

Flickr: Bahman

Happy Family Day!

For some Canadians, today is a relaxing day for ice skating, binge-watching Netflix, catching up on some much needed sleep – and yes, spending time with family.

For others, “family time” is a faint memory. 

Last week, the federal government of Canada was served a class-action lawsuit for its Adopt Indian Métis program, which ran from the 1960s to the 1980s. This period was known as the Sixties Scoop, a dark period of Canadian history when “provincial social workers would, quite literally, scoop children from reserves,” putting them into adoptive families - usually white, non-aboriginal households. Much of this was done with no approval of the families losing their children. There was a similar version of this program in the United States known as the Indian Adoption Project and a potentially larger scale version in Australia that affected thousands of aboriginal kids in what is referred to as the stolen generation.

This was apparently done with the best intentions, to save them from poverty, unsanitary health conditions, poor housing, and malnutrition. Despite these aims, however, Aboriginal peoples in Canada still experience all of these realities in 2015 at alarmingly high rates.

Approximately 20,000 Canadian children went through adoption, many of whom were shunted into a lifelong struggle for safety, respect and wellbeing:

  • “Violence has always been a part of my life. Sexual and physical abuse began for me from being placed, along with my two older sisters, in a non-Indigenous household as part of the '60s Scoop. We fled that home and eventually found our parents but sadly a year later, on July 25, 1990, my eldest sister Gina (Charmaine Desa) was murdered in a downtown Edmonton park. I was 17 years old at the time.” -Colleen Cardinal, to Rabble.
  • "They tricked me. They never even told me they were going to send away my boys. I didn't know where they were. Nothing." –Effie Campbell, to CBC.
  • “Ultimately, it all has to do with colonization; it has been like this for years and years. From the residential schools to the '60s Scoop, and now the children's aid societies -- it's still happening. I was in state care in Children Aid's Society and my Santa Claus every year was the Indian Agent. It is so wicked and it never ends.” –Bridget Tolley, to Rabble.

The losses experienced by Aboriginal peoples during the Sixties Scoop – by children, mothers, families, and communities – are incalculable. This is only one of many examples of the systematic mistreatment and marginalization of Aboriginal peoples in Canada over the course of the 20th century that has fed into the massive gaps in health, gender, and economic equality in Canada today. 

One of the most egregious realities they disproportionately face is gendered and sexual violence. Indigenous women are three times more likely to report violent crimes than non-Indigenous women, and have a homicide rate seven times higher than non-indigenous women. Even though they make up only 6% of the population, Indigenous women make up 60% of Canada’s missing women.

"The system and most Canadians don't give a shit about you, how strong and talented you are, how hard you've worked, or where you live. If you are an Indigenous woman, you are a prime target for colonial violence,” Tara Williamson told Rabble. While this has garnered attention from both international and domestic human rights groups, the Canadian federal government has yet to call an inquiry into the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Let’s use this Family Day - and every day - to work towards a better Canada where race, history and postal codes don’t determine your safety. Let’s use these stories to build an understanding of the shared experiences of Aboriginal peoples, as well as the diversity within; of their colonial pasts and present (and Canada’s direct role in that) and their ongoing resilience.

As Coleen Rajotte told CBC, "We lost our language. We lost our connection to our home communities ... We were victims of colonization and Canadians need to recognize that this is a part of our history.


Farah Momen