A LONG OVER­DUE APOL­OGY

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There is much work to be done yet, but it’s a new year, a new time, a new be­gin­ning and I feel with rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, that’s where it all be­gins, is with an apol­ogy. Chief Mar­garet BearFor Six­ties Scoop sur­vivor Shelbi-dawn Pel­letier, sorry is a start — but ac­tion must fol­low.“I re­ally want to see that there is change. You can’t say sorry and not have some change and ac­tion with that, so that’s my hope,” she said Mon­day af­ter Premier Scott Moe de­liv­ered the prov­ince’s his­toric, of­fi­cial apol­ogy for the Six­ties Scoop.The pro­gram saw roughly 20,000 Indige­nous chil­dren taken from their fam­i­lies and placed in non-indige­nous homes be­tween the 1950s and 1980s. It stripped chil­dren of their lan­guage, cul­ture and fam­ily ties.“By the time I was seven, I lost my whole fam­ily. I had three broth­ers and three sis­ters that were adopted out, and I be­came a ward,” said Pel­letier, who like many gath­ered at the Leg­isla­tive Build­ing, ex­pe­ri­enced mixed emo­tions over the apol­ogy.She was placed in homes in Regina, where she suf­fered abuse.“There was just lots and lots of sex­ual abuse. That’s what I’ve seen a lot since I was a child,” she said.“I’m re­ally hop­ing that, be­cause of this apol­ogy, child wel­fare will be changed,” she said. “That chil­dren will stay with their fam­i­lies, be­cause yeah, it’s re­ally a hard thing to go through, not know­ing who you are or where you come from.”Ochapowace First Na­tion Chief Mar­garet Bear at­tended the apol­ogy to sup­port her com­mu­nity.“It’s a be­gin­ning to the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process. That’s where it all starts. There is much work to be done yet, but it’s a new year, a new time, a new be­gin­ning,” she said. “And I feel with rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, that’s where it all be­gins, is with an apol­ogy,” she said.Lori Deets, who was taken from her fam­ily in the 1980s and raised in a non-indige­nous home in south­ern Saskatchewan, said un­til there are changes within the child wel­fare sys­tem, “it’s still just words to me.”“I think it was a lot more of ‘I’m sorry,’” she said. “I don’t want to take away from what they did, be­cause there has to be a start­ing point. This may or not be it, though. We still don’t know.”Asked if she thought Mon­day’s apol­ogy was mean­ing­ful, Deets replied, “I hate to say no, but I can’t say yes, ei­ther.”Moe told the crowd of roughly 200 peo­ple the con­se­quences of the Six­ties Scoop are still be­ing felt.“We are sorry for the pain and the sad­ness that you have ex­pe­ri­enced. We are sorry for your loss of cul­ture and lan­guage. And to all of those who lost con­tact with their fam­ily, we’re so sorry.”Robert Doucette, a sur­vivor and co-chair of Six­ties Scoop Indige­nous So­ci­ety of Saskatchewan, cried dur­ing the cer­e­mony as he thought about lost fam­ily mem­bers that he’ll never see.For him, the apol­ogy was a high­light of his life and a step in the right di­rec­tion.“I waited 56 years for this apol­ogy,” said Doucette. “I heard the premier say he was sorry, and there was ac­knowl­edg­ment of the harms that they per­pe­trated on First Na­tions and Metis chil­dren, and I ap­pre­ci­ate that.”Sur­vivor Kerry Opoonechaw-bel­le­garde, 43, said she felt lonely head­ing into the leg­is­la­ture be­cause she wanted her par­ents to be there. Both of her par­ents were res­i­den­tial school sur­vivors.She had hoped Moe would men­tion the par­ents of those seized in his apol­ogy. She met with Moe af­ter­wards but left dis­ap­pointed.“I showed him the pic­ture of my par­ents and I said, ‘You for­got to di­rectly apol­o­gize to our par­ents, ’ ” Opoonechaw-bel­le­garde said.Although Mon­day’s events had its solemn mo­ments, it was also a time for joy, end­ing with Moe and other po­lit­i­cal lead­ers join­ing in a Metis jig dance.Fed­er­a­tion of Sov­er­eign Indige­nous Na­tions (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron was un­able to at­tend the apol­ogy, but said he ac­knowl­edges it. How­ever, he said, there are other sur­vivors be­ing left out of the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process and con­crete ac­tion is needed.“We are tired of the so­cial ser­vices sys­tem fail­ing our chil­dren year af­ter year,” he said in an in­ter­view.“It’s still hap­pen­ing. There are still chil­dren be­ing ripped and kid­napped from their fam­i­lies and put in the fos­ter care sys­tem.”Cameron again likened cur­rent child wel­fare poli­cies to a “modern day” Six­ties Scoop.The same day as the apol­ogy, the FSIN is­sued a news re­lease call­ing for “an im­me­di­ate mora­to­rium on pro­vin­cial adop­tions in­volv­ing First Na­tions chil­dren” and to “cease adop­tions of First Na­tions chil­dren into non-first Na­tions homes.”“We will con­tinue to fight for our chil­dren and our fam­i­lies, and we won’t stop un­til there is a First Na­tions-led child wel­fare sys­tem,” said the re­lease.In the apol­ogy, Moe ac­knowl­edged there are still too many First Na­tions and Metis chil­dren in care, but noted the prov­ince works to­day with 17 First Na­tions Child and Fam­ily ser­vices agen­cies to de­liver cul­tur­ally ap­pro­pri­ate child wel­fare ser­vices.Moe said that fam­i­lies are kept to­gether when pos­si­ble, sup­ports have been strength­ened to main­tain con­nec­tion to cul­ture and fam­ily, ef­forts are made to keep sib­lings to­gether, work con­tin­ues to ac­tively re­cruit First Na­tions and Metis fos­ter fam­i­lies, and cul­tural train­ing is be­ing given to non-indige­nous fos­ter fam­i­lies.The Op­po­si­tion NDP also echoed calls for child wel­fare re­form, with leader Ryan Meili say­ing change is needed right now.Moe ac­knowl­edged to sur­vivors there, “is noth­ing we can of­fer that will fully re­store what you have lost . ... What we can of­fer is the solemn as­sur­ance that gov­ern­ment poli­cies have changed.”The prov­ince says it’s “still con­sult­ing” on a ma­jor fos­ter sys­tem over­haul, first an­nounced seven years ago.So­cial Ser­vices Min­is­ter Paul Mer­ri­man said leg­is­la­tion is a big part of the process, but not the “end all, be all.”“I would hope to see some­thing, I think I said 12 to 18 months, but now that this has hap­pened, hope­fully in 2019 to be able to fi­nal­ize the leg­is­la­tion on this,” he said.That likely means, ac­cord­ing to Mer­ri­man, sub­stan­tive changeswould be in­tro­duced “at best” in the fall and passed next spring.As of Sept. 30, 2018, some 3,197 chil­dren were in the care of the prov­ince and 2,030 chil­dren in per­sons of suf­fi­cient in­ter­est (PSI) place­ments, which have been in place since 1989 and al­low chil­dren in need of pro­tec­tion to stay with ex­tended fam­ily mem­bers.Of the 5,227 to­tal youth in care of the gov­ern­ment, 73.3 per cent of them were self-iden­ti­fied as Indige­nous, ac­cord­ing to the prov­ince.

Au­drey Ben wipes away tears while record­ing the premier’s of­fi­cial Six­ties Scoop apol­ogy on Mon­day at the Leg­isla­tive Build­ing.

A box con­tain­ing items sig­nif­i­cant to Indige­nous cul­ture sits on an empty bench draped in a blan­ket, sig­ni­fy­ing lives lost to the Six­ties Scoop. The bench faced Premier Scott Moe as he told sur­vivors “there is noth­ing we can of­fer that will fully re­store what you have lost.”

Dur­ing the apol­ogy, Premier Scott Moe re­flects on the “loss of cul­ture and lan­guage” to Indige­nous peo­ple.

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