’60s Scoop tells us we remain far away from reconciliation
We are a province that doesn’t reconcile easily — at least, when it comes to First Nations and Metis issues.
A few of you may recall the controversy 30 years ago over the potential naming of Regina’s Lewvan Drive after Louis Riel. A century after being hanged in the Queen City in 1885, people could not get past their school history lessons that taught generation after generation the Metis leader was a traitor. In 2001, Highway 11 was renamed the Louis Riel Trail, but locally, few of us call it that.
Similarly, it wasn’t until stories of sexual abuse at the hands of former Gordon Residential School principal William Starr surfaced a quarter-century ago that we finally began to understand something was very wrong with the concept of ripping little kids from their moms and dads. But then — and even now — we struggled with the notion that depriving children of their family and culture is directly tied to addictions and intergenerational struggles with parenting skills.
That we can’t even seem to make basic overtures to recognize this — like removing the name of residential school architect Nicholas Flood Davin from Davin School — says much about how unready we are to reconcile.
It’s not that Saskatchewan is an unkind place. There’s an argument to be made that there is less racism here than other places we’ve heard so much about.
Most of us here saw through the thin veil of neo-Nazism in Charlottesville this summer. A surprising number of us were sympathetic (or at least understand) what Roughriders quarterback Kevin Glenn was trying to tell us about racism in the U.S. toward African Americans when he described why players here linked arms in solidarity with NFL players.
Yes, there is — and always has been — racism toward newcomers in Saskatchewan. Some in the Muslim community will testify that it still exists. Yet even in predominately white and elderly rural communities, we embrace our provincial motto, multis e gentibus vires. Hard-working newcomers from the Philippines and elsewhere in the world are welcomed.
But when it comes to longstanding tensions between white and First Nations communities, the problems continue, and — if last summer’s killing of Colten Boushie and the fallout from it are any indication — may be worsening.
Reconciliation here remains far away because we struggle mightily with our own uncomfortable history.
Sadly, this even applies to the historical events in which we once thought we were doing good. And no issue embodies this more than the so-called ’60s Scoop.
During the 1960s, First Nations and Metis children were removed from their families and communities and placed in foster home programs or put up for adoption — sometimes as far away as the U.S. and Western Europe. This was even government policy in Saskatchewan, where the social services department had the Adopt Indian Metis (AIM) program.
Last week, the federal government settled on a maximum $750-million payout of between $25,000 and $50,000 per claimant for what may be an estimated 20,000 ’60s Scoop victims — a fantastic sum, but one that amounts to just a couple dollars a day for many who have likely spent a lifetime of suffering because of the policies of the government of the day.
However, what many of the victims simply want is more basic than cash. They want and deserve to get an apology.
Expect to hear that long overdue apology from Premier Brad Wall during the fall sitting. It’s a good step.
To his credit, Wall has overseen the implementation of 22 of the 34 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission aimed at the provinces, including teaching First Nations and Metis history in schools through mandatory treaty education, and implementing a joint task force to improve education and employment outcomes for First Nations people.
But notwithstanding the political argument about whether Wall has done enough or even whether First Nations leadership has opted to be political rather than co-operative, the history here is bigger than any single Saskatchewan premier or administration.
As a province, we have far to go.