APTN National News
A group of 60s Scoop survivors met with two Alberta cabinet ministers to give the government their thoughts on what would be in a provincial apology for having torn them away from their families.
Alberta Minister of Indigenous Relations Richard Feehan and, Danielle Larivee, minister of Child and Family Services held a meeting with five survivors at the legislature Tuesday.
Sharon Gladue-Paskimin was in the meeting – the Cree-born woman was six years old when she was adopted into a Caucasian family in Saskatchewan 42 years ago.
She is one of an estimated 20,000 children from across the country who were torn from their families and adopted out into non-Indigenous familes in the 1960s in what is commonly called the 60s scoop.
It’s not clear how many children were caught up in the apprehensions in Alberta – but the government said it plans to travel to various communities to try and find out.
“The meeting went very, very well. We are still in the beginning stages, but I felt that they really listened. My thoughts are that there is hope,” she said.
Gladue-Paskimin, who has called Alberta home for the past 18 years, said it’s a humbling feeling that the Alberta government is set to apologize to Scoop survivors.
She said she still deals with the effects of being taken away from her family including feelings of abandonment and low self-esteem.
She recalls that even though her parents fought demons stemming from the ripple effects of residential schools and colonization, they were filled with love for her.
“The one thing about my parents is they loved us unconditionally. They never swore at us, never struck us. Looking back we were fine, even though there was times when we were left alone there was always someone there to make sure we were being fed,” she said.
When she and her sister were taken away, she was told that her parents never gave up looking for them. For weeks they would hitch hike from their reserve into the surrounding communities to look for their children.
“They would literally walk the streets to see if they could find us. The determination they had to find their children- our mom worked effortlessly to try and get us back,” Gladue-Paskimin said.
Dave Herman, 44, is another survivor who attended the meeting. He was forcefully taken from his mother when he was four.
He later on reconnected with his Cree culture and met his mother again. But she died not too long after of alcoholism and he thinks maybe a broken heart from having her children taken.
He said he always envisioned the day when the “system” would apologize for what happened.
“It (an apology) would be very emotional,” said Herman. “If it’s a heartfelt, sincere apology. I’m willing to forgive when I receive that. I’m not angry anymore, it would mean the world to me.”
In the meeting he said he made a recommendation to government officials to consider.
“I told them if I had a wish I would like it to be put into law that Aboriginal children are no longer adopted outside of our communities and culture. They agreed,” said Herman.
The meeting with the ministers followed a March 16 question period in the Alberta legislature.
Twenty survivors, including Gladue-Piegan, watched as Wildrose Indigenous Relations critic David Hanson pressed Premier Rachel Notley along with Feehan for an apology.
“There was a lot of emotions,” said Gladue-Paskimin. “We were recognized.”
Hanson said that he is happy that an apology is now in the works.
“It’s a frustrating part with all levels of government and sometimes they have to be embarrassed into action,” said Hanson who added Alberta needs to take responsibility for the part it played in the 60s Scoop.
“When I look at the situation and the part that Alberta played it’s pretty easy to brush it off into a federal issue but it was our child welfare system that enacted on the federal mandate.”
But the apology isn’t going to be a quick fix, said Feehan.
“This is about having a respectful and deeper process and not just getting to the apology in some kind of quick manner where we just check off and say, ‘yep, we’ve got that apology done.’ I think everyone around the table wants to be having conversations with the people deeply affected,” said Feehan.
He said his department is working alongside the ministry of Child and Family Services to facilitate preparing for the apology. Plans to travel to select communities around Alberta to hear survivor stories in the coming months is also in the works.
Feehan said the official apology could happen by the end of 2017.
Gladue-Paskimin, who is part of a civil suit against Canada in Saskatchewan for the 60s Scoop said she is looking forward to the journey ahead, and that the apology will need to ensure not to repeat itself.
“There was a sense of jubilation that finally something’s going to be done with this apology and that it will never, never happen again that family’s will be taken apart,” she said.
Manitoba has been the only province so far that has released a formal apology for Scoop survivors.