Scooped chil­dren strug­gling to fit in any­where

Regina Leader-Post - - OPINION - DOUG CUTHAND

More than 40,000 chil­dren are in care in Canada. That’s more chil­dren than were res­i­dent in board­ing schools at the height of that failed pro­gram.

While Indige­nous chil­dren make up 7.7 per cent of the Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion, our peo­ple rep­re­sent half the chil­dren in care na­tion­wide.

This is both a na­tional dis­grace and a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis that is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the ’60s scoop. For 60 years, overzeal­ous so­cial work­ers have been scoop­ing chil­dren from homes and hospi­tals. A young mother may have just given birth, but some­one in a face­less depart­ment has deemed that she is not fit to raise her own child.

Indige­nous so­cial work­ers agree that once a child is taken from the home it’s next to im­pos­si­ble to re-in­te­grate the child with the home en­vi­ron­ment.

The statis­tics are over­whelm­ing enough, but re­cently I did a documentary and in­ter­viewed some of the sur­vivors of the child wel­fare scoop. The sto­ries were so hor­rific that we had to dumb them down for a gen­eral au­di­ence.

One woman told me she was sex­u­ally abused by her adopted fa­ther from the time she was a pre­teen un­til she man­aged to run away af­ter high school. Her teenage years were lost years and she suf­fered low self-es­teem and lived in ter­ror. She man­aged to move to an­other prov­ince and raise a fam­ily, but her life is for­ever scarred.

An­other adoptee I spoke to was ba­si­cally used as a slave on a farm. Ev­ery day, he had to get up early and do chores, and more work waited when he came home. The home was love­less, and it was ob­vi­ous to him and his brother that they were treated as live­stock. They lived in the base­ment and were not al­lowed up­stairs. As soon as he could leave, he did.

Through­out the years the scooped chil­dren and their fam­i­lies had no say in where they would go. As a re­sult, Indige­nous chil­dren were quite lit­er­ally sent all over the world. Many went to the United States, oth­ers went to Europe and still oth­ers went to Aus­tralia and New Zealand. The fam­i­lies lost track and in most cases, they had no idea where their chil­dren went. One by one the lost chil­dren would reach adult­hood and search for their roots.

Ev­ery day in Canada, an adult re­turns home and while they are wel­comed back, they have a dif­fer­ent up­bring­ing and they strug­gle to be­long. They meet cousins, aunts and un­cles and grand­par­ents they never knew. It’s a sad and dif­fi­cult re­union and it may take years to fit in, if ever.

The rea­son for this dis­as­ter goes back to overzeal­ous so­cial work­ers, homes with over­crowd­ing and poverty or dys­func­tion caused by gen­er­a­tions of res­i­den­tial school ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s a tragedy that can­not be un­done; it must be stopped.

The sys­tem is based on the racist premise that white par­ents will do a bet­ter job, which has been proven wrong re­peat­edly. Even if a child is lucky enough to be placed in a lov­ing home, they lack the cul­tural up­bring­ing and the close sense of fam­ily that Indige­nous peo­ple share.

Jane Philpott, the Indige­nous Ser­vices Minister, re­cently an­nounced that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was go­ing to draft new child wel­fare leg­is­la­tion in co-de­vel­op­ment with the three na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sent­ing the Metis, First Nations and Inuit.

Any leg­is­la­tion must rec­og­nize the cul­tural foun­da­tion that sup­ports our fam­i­lies. Tra­di­tion­ally the women — the mother and grand­mother — ran the house­hold. The grand­mother would over­see the fam­ily and if there were problems the chil­dren would be placed with other fam­ily mem­bers un­til things worked out.

There were no so­cial work­ers or out­side in­flu­ences. Our peo­ple took care of their own and adop­tion was within the fam­ily unit. Of­ten one of the grand­chil­dren would be sent to live with the grand­par­ents and help chop wood, haul wa­ter or any other stren­u­ous labour. In re­turn the old peo­ple would tell them sto­ries and teach the cul­ture.

This new leg­is­la­tion can’t come fast enough, but it must also be mean­ing­ful and abol­ish the old colo­nial sys­tem where other peo­ple thought they knew bet­ter how to raise our chil­dren. They took our cul­ture and fam­ily ties so lightly and did se­ri­ous, ir­repara­ble dam­age as a re­sult.

It’s a tragedy that can­not be un­done; it must be stopped.

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