Alberta government officials, Indigenous leaders, and trauma survivors met on February 1 just west of St. Paul at University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills to gather information on how to offer a meaningful apology to victims of the Sixties Scoop.
The Sixties Scoop was a period in Canada’s history from the 1960s to the late 1980s when Indigenous children were taken from their parents, families, and communities by child intervention services and placed with mostly non-Indigenous families, often far from home, and sometimes even overseas.
Adam North Peigan, president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta (SSISA) explained effects of being removed from their homes: “We were robbed of our culture. We felt abandonment. We suffered a lot of abuse in the homes – physical, mental, social, and sexual. One of the biggest losses we had to endure was loss of language. As Indigenous people, how we are defined is through our language. As victims of the Sixties Scoop, we don’t have that. When I go home to my community in Piegani First Nation in southern Alberta, when I talk to my elders, or even my parents, I can’t have a fluent conversation with them in Blackfoot.”
The meeting at Blue Quills was the second in a series of Sixties Scoop Apology Engagement Sessions to be held across Alberta in the next four weeks. The intent, says Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee, “Is to journey in a spirit of togetherness. We want to provide a safe, respectful inclusive space” for survivors to share their stories. “A meaningful apology is a promise that we listened and recognize we have done wrong. We are committed to reconciliation.”
Larivee and North Peigan, as well as other members of SSISA, and Minister of Indigenous Relations, Richard Feehan, have already been to Peace River and St. Paul, and will be in Fort McMurray on February 7, Lethbridge February 14, and Calgary February 21, winding up the sessions in Edmonton on March 1. Once stories and recommendations have been collected, they will be used to formulate a meaningful apology, to be delivered in the Alberta Legislature. North Peigan predicts, “When Premier Rachel Notley does stand up and say, ‘I’m sorry’ it’s going to be a huge day in the Province of Alberta for the Indigenous people.”
Minister Larivee praised the participants in the talking circles, recognizing the personal pain they carry. She said, “No one knows better what we need to apologize for than those who were involved. To those who open up to us today, your participation shows a tremendous amount of courage.” Sharon Gladue-Paskamin, vice president of SSISA, recognizes the government’s respectfulness. “Everything is being done with ceremony and proper protocol,” she noted.
North Peigan knows that an apology won’t change the past. But he sees brighter days for people who grew up feeling isolated and helpless. “The Sixties Scoop survivors feel that reconciliation begins with an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, with “I’m sorry.” Once that apology happens, the work needs to continue. What we are hoping will happen, is after that apology, we hope to be able to bring survivors together in community gatherings right across Canada, and create a safe environment for them to be able to talk about their stories. With the residential school issue, they had national gatherings in each part of the country. Because that’s where reconciliation healing begins.”
For his birth mother, who is now 83, but who lost 12 children to social services, an official apology will never return her children, but it may help to alleviate guilt, emotional baggage, and personal stress.