Apol­ogy should set tone for im­proved First Na­tions re­la­tions

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The Saskatchewan Party gov­ern­ment’s re­cently an­nounced Jan. 7 apol­ogy to Six­ties Scoop chil­dren ends this old year and be­gins the new one on a pos­i­tive note.Let us hope for higher notes when it comes to gov­ern­ment re­la­tions with First Na­tions and Metis peo­ple in 2019. In 2018, we saw far too many lows.This week’s good news an­nounce­ment has, un­for­tu­nately, been far too long in com­ing... although let us be clear that Premier Scott Moe’s gov­ern­ment should not be seen as the source of this par­tic­u­lar prob­lem that has been decades in the mak­ing.The Six­ties Scoop is an­other prob­lem­atic chap­ter in Saskatchewan and Canada’s his­tor­i­cally trou­bled re­la­tion­ship with Indige­nous peo­ple — one in which de­ci­sions were made by well-mean­ing bu­reau­crats who clearly didn’t ex­pect or un­der­stand the con­se­quences. There is lit­tle doubt many Six­ties Scoop chil­dren en­dured hell, and less doubt their road to hell was paved with good in­ten­tions.The prac­tice of “scoop­ing up” some 20,000 First Na­tions and Metis chil­dren from fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties across Canada for ei­ther adop­tion or foster care was based on the faulty premise that chil­dren who ac­tu­ally had fam­i­lies would au­to­mat­i­cally be bet­ter off if they were adopted by more af­flu­ent white fam­i­lies or raised in white, mid­dle-class foster homes.This isn’t to sug­gest that most of these chil­dren weren’t cared for or loved — ar­guably where the Six­ties Scoop sto­ries di­verge from the res­i­den­tial school fi­asco.But it is to say that there was some­thing very wrong about hav­ing tar­geted gov­ern­ment pro­grams and poli­cies like Saskatchewan’s 1967 Adopt In­dian Metis (AIM) pro­gram that ripped ba­bies (some­times new­borns) from their moth­ers to be raised miles, prov­inces and some­times con­ti­nents away.The scars that many First Na­tions and Metis chil­dren still bear from these poli­cies that car­ried on into the 1980s run deep. They in­clude a loss of iden­tity, prej­u­dices faced while grow­ing up and the strug­gle to de­velop ba­sic par­ent­ing skills — sto­ries that are all too sim­i­lar to those of res­i­den­tial school stu­dents.The term “Six­ties Scoop” didn’t even come into ex­is­tence un­til the early 1980s, and it would take an­other quar­ter cen­tury be­fore most started to com­pre­hend what hap­pened and its ef­fect.Moe’s Sask. Party ad­min­is­tra­tion’s long-over­due Jan. 7 apol­ogy should be seen as an im­por­tant step in the heal­ing process.No doubt it should have come ear­lier, de­layed by squab­bles with the Fed­er­a­tion of Sovereign Indige­nous Na­tions (FSIN) over a pro­vin­cial com­pen­sa­tion pack­age that never came. This wasn’t help­ful (although it’s ques­tion­able whether the FSIN in­ter­ven­tion was at all help­ful to longer-term goals or whether one can en­tirely blame the Sask. Party gov­ern­ment for this de­lay).That we again heard the all-too-fa­mil­iar “it’s just all about the money” nar­ra­tive we tend to hear from cer­tain sec­tors of this prov­ince any time there is any First Na­tion griev­ance is where the Sask. Party gov­ern­ment needs to be­gin its own con­tri­bu­tion to the heal­ing process.On Jan. 7, Moe needs to say that First Na­tions/metis griev­ances like the ones sur­round­ing the Six­ties Scoop are real. And it’s Moe who needs to say this be­cause it very much ap­pears that too many peo­ple in Saskatchewan — in­clud­ing some of his own sup­port­ers — need to hear this from their premier.Let’s give some credit here for some­times de­liv­er­ing that im­por­tant mes­sage in 2018. Moe and Jus­tice Min­is­ter Don Mor­gan did ex­actly the right thing in the wake of Ger­ald Stan­ley’s not-guilty ver­dict by meet­ing with the fam­ily of vic­tim Colten Boushie.But far too of­ten, 2018 was a year of ei­ther send­ing the wrong mes­sage (as was the case when the Sask. Party gov­ern­ment de­manded po­lice end the teepee protest in Was­cana Park) or leav­ing too much of the mes­sage to in­ter­pre­ta­tion (as has been the case with First Na­tion re­ac­tion/ lack of in­put on the new tres­pass­ing law and the con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cer firearms pol­icy).We need to stop do­ing this.The les­son of the Six­ties Scoop is that we need to rec­og­nize and stop our mis­takes as we are mak­ing them.

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