Canada seeks to compensate indigenous taken from families
TORONTO (AP) — Colleen Cardinal often wondered why her parents turned bright red in the sun but she grew dark along with her sisters. The puzzle was solved when she was a young teen, and the woman she had thought of as her mother disclosed that she had been picked out of a catalog of native children available for adoption.
Cardinal was one of thousands of indigenous children taken from their birth families from the 1960s to mid-1980s and sent to live with white families, who officials at the time insisted could give them better care. Many lost touch with their original culture and language.
It echoes the history of residential schools in Canada. Some 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children were taken from their families over much of the last century and put in government schools, where they were forced to convert to Christianity and not allowed to speak their native languages. Many were beaten and verbally abused, and up to 6,000 are said to have died.
The government has since apologized and o ered compensation for the victims of residential schools, and now it’s paying compensation for what is known as the “Sixties Scoop” in which children were essentially scooped up from reservations and their native families. But many say the settlement is too little, too late.
Cardinal says it won’t undo what was for her a traumatic experience. She was taken from her Plains Cree family in Alberta and sent to a home about 1,600 miles away alongside a lake in rural Ontario, where she said her two older sisters were sexually abused.
“We had to flee that home to escape from physical and sexual violence. My two older sisters were sexually molested,” Cardinal said.
A few years earlier Cardinal had been shocked to find out she was native.
“As a child you want to hear that you are loved and people wanted you,” Cardinal said. “What I heard instead was, ‘Well, we picked you out of a catalog of native children up for adoption.’”
The only catalog Cardinal knew was the Sears catalog — not the lists from government or religious organizations that included pictures of children available for adoption.
“I was thinking, ‘There was a catalog of native kids like me?’ That stayed in my mind forever — that I was picked out of a catalog of native children,” she said.
The survivors of the “Sixties Scoop” began suing the Canadian government in 2010, claiming damages for the loss of their language, culture and identity. Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled last February that Canada had breached its “duty of care” to the children and found the government liable.
A tearful Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced the settlement in early October.
“This policy was based on race,” Bennett said in an interview later with The Associated Press. “It was unconscionable that government thought that would be better for the child.
“We know now that it really isn’t. In terms of health, education or economic outcomes, it is a disaster to take kids away from their language, their culture, their community, their extended family.”
The Sixties Scoop settlement for an estimated 20,000 people is aimed at resolving numerous related lawsuits. The survivors will share $586 million, with individual amounts to be determined later.
Cardinal said she might invest the money.
“Fifty thousand is not very much money,” she said. “That’s like one year income for a middle class worker.”
Cardinal, 44, is happy the government has set aside an additional 50 million dollars for a healing and reconciliation foundation. She is the co-founder and coordinator of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network, which brings together survivors to talk and heal. She now lives in Ottawa and is teaching her four children about their native culture.
Many remain close to their adoptive families, but some, like Cardinal, say they were scarred by the experience. She believes she was taken from her birth parents to be assimilated. Most of her biological family has passed away and she wasn’t able to connect with them in the way she had wanted.
But her organization has helped others reconnect. Brent Mitchell was taken from his mother in Manitoba when he was 1 and shipped o to New Zealand when he was 5. Records indicate there was alcohol abuse in his birth home. But he said he endured beatings and verbal taunts in the foster homes in New Zealand and sexual abuse outside it by a predator. He struggled to recover, attempting suicide at three di erent points in his life.
In this Sept. 26, photo, Colleen Cardinal, co-founder of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network speaks to the press in Ottawa, Canada. Cardinal, from a Plains Cree family in Alberta, was one of thousands of indigenous children taken from their birth families from the 1960s to mid-1980s and sent to live with white families.