A LONG OVERDUE APOLOGY
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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