The Sixties Scoop and steps toward reconciliation

The term “Sixties Scoop” has been widely referenced in the media for much of 2017, often in passing and without much discussion of the dark history behind it. This term references Canada’s child welfare policies from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, which supported the forceful removal of Indigenous children from their families, and resulted in displaced children being resettled into non-Indigenous families across Canada, the United States and Europe. Unpacking the history behind the Sixties Scoop will allow us to better understand the federal government’s recent October 2017 settlement decision with Sixties Scoop survivors.

In the post-WWII period, following the phasing out of government-run residential schools and a 1951 amendment to the Indian Act allowing provincial control over Indigenous health and welfare policies, the provincial governments began the wide-scale resettling of Indigenous children into non-Indigenous foster and adoptive homes. Children were often placed with white middle-class families across Canada (but also in the United States and Western Europe) that lacked knowledge and appreciation of the unique cultural histories of Indigenous peoples in Canada. An estimated 20,000 Indigenous children were removed from their families and forcibly resettled into foster and adoptive homes during this period, where they were often the victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Sixties Scoop survivors and researchers alike have noted the negative effects these removals and adoptions had on the mental, emotional and physical well-being of Indigenous children, leading many to conclude the policy was akin to forced assimilation and cultural genocide.

Several factors have brought the Sixties Scoop back onto the policy agenda: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, formal state apologies, provincial governments’ acknowledgment of their role in the Sixties Scoop, increased awareness of the harm done by this policy, and a string of class action lawsuits. To reconcile these grievances, the federal and provincial governments have negotiated an Agreement-in-Principle for survivors. The agreement was reached in August 2017 and then publicly announced on October 6, 2017. It includes all First Nations and Inuit survivors that were resettled from 1951 to 1991. All parties are aiming to formalize the agreement by the end of 2017 and then aim to seek court approval through a fairness hearing in spring 2018. Important elements of the Agreement-in-Principle include:

  • Up to $50 million provided by the federal government for the creation of a foundation that will offer services to First Nations, Inuit and Metis people in the areas of education, healing, wellness, and cultural preservation. The foundation’s structure is currently under discussion, but lead Ontario claimant lawyer Jeffrey Wilson has expressed hopes that it will be led and operated by Indigenous people.
  • $500 million to 750 million in individual compensation for status Indigenous and Inuit individuals. Survivors can expect to individually receive between $25,000 to $50,000, depending on the number of survivors that come forward.
  • $75 million to cover all claimant legal fees incurred during the class-action lawsuits. This will allow claimants to retain their settlement amounts in full.

There has, however, been criticism over the fact Metis and non-status Indigenous people are not included in the agreement. The federal government has stated since Metis and non-status Indigenous peoples were not recognized as holding Indigenous rights from the 1960s to 1990s, they are unable to offer a settlement proposition to these groups. The federal government has also noted that they are unable to offer a settlement proposal to these excluded groups without provincial involvement, since the provincial governments were responsible for directly administering these child welfare policies. Robert Doucette, former president of the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan and a Sixties Scoop survivor, has been an outspoken voice for Metis excluded from the decision. He sent a letter outlining his concerns to Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennet, Prime Minister Trudeau, and all MPs to raise awareness of how Metis people will be impacted by this decision.

The settlement decision also raises questions for Sixties Scoop adoptees who survived but have since died. Jeffrey Wilson, lead Ontario claimant lawyer, has noted concerns that a deceased survivor’s adoptive parents could to claim compensation benefits, but says this is unlikely. Alternatively, Wilson has said that it may be possible for the financial compensation that they would have received to be donated to the proposed foundation that will be created as part of the settlement.

Ultimately, the Sixties Scoop settlement decision is the first step by the federal government in redressing its egregious actions that displaced thousands of Indigenous children over four decades. Formalizing the negotiated settlement and establishing the proposed foundation to act as a space for healing will be important next steps in the journey to reconciliation.

Nicole Winger is currently a Master of Public Policy candidate (Year 1) at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto. She holds a Master of Arts in American Studies and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Political Science, both from Western University. Nicole is interested in the areas of inclusive and equitable policy-making for marginalized and discriminated groups within Canada. Her particular policy interests include indigenous relations and refugee and immigration affairs.