Saskatchewan’s apology only a first step
IN Saskatchewan, the new legislative year started with an apology by Premier Scott Moe to survivors of the ’60s Scoop for “failing them.”
“On behalf of the government of Saskatchewan and on behalf of the people of Saskatchewan, I stand before you today to apologize. I stand before you to say sorry,” Mr. Moe announced last week. “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.”
This follows similar apologies to ’60s Scoop survivors in Manitoba (2015) and Alberta (2018). In Saskatchewan, approximately 20,000 Indigenous children were seized from their birth families and relocated to non-Indigenous homes, starting in the 1950s and continuing until the late 1980s. Similar numbers were taken in Manitoba and Alberta.
That’s not the only similarity. The wordings of the three apologies were virtual echoes and, in all three cases, elicited a similar response from Indigenous leaders and survivors.
Survivor Raven Sinclair called the apology “meaningful,” but called for survivors to be compensated and for changes to ensure such a policy is never repeated. Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations refused to attend the apology, saying apologies are “empty” unless changes are made in Saskatchewan’s child welfare system, a “direct outcome” of the ’60s Scoop.
“Our First Nations children are still being ripped away from their families, communities and culture,” Mr. Cameron said in a prepared statement. “This needs to stop immediately.”
For some Indigenous people — particularly those most directly affected by violent policies — government apologies are important recognitions of harm. For others, not so much.
This might not be the real point of apologies, however.
As in any act of violence, it is what happens after “sorry” that matters. The apology is the easy part; what comes after is much more difficult.
The legacies from the ’60s Scoop are profound and can be found in many aspects of Canadian society. The removal and relocation of Indigenous children — justifiable and otherwise — has resulted in generations of Indigenous citizens struggling with issues relating to identity, language loss, trauma and parenting.
As Mr. Cameron identifies, the legacy of the ’60s Scoop is most seen today in the overwhelming number of Indigenous children in child-welfare systems. This is most evident on the Prairies, where Indigenous children make up as much as 85 to 90 per cent of children in care in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. There are 10,328 Manitoba children in care, and 87 per cent are Indigenous.
Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott has called the situation a “humanitarian crisis” and announced that the federal government will introduce legislation later this year to devolve child-welfare services to Indigenous governments and agencies. This is a good start, but without the involvement of provinces, which primarily oversee, fund and regulate child welfare, this legislation amounts to an empty promise.
Cora Morgan, First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, recently testified at the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls that provincial agencies apprehend children as a “first resort” instead of a “last resort.” Too much time and money is spent taking children away from their families instead of being proactive and keeping them together.
Provincial governments can have an effect by supporting and empowering Indigenous families to escape poverty, find safe places to live and ensure Indigenous children are surrounded by loving, supportive and culturally engaged families and a society that values them.
An apology is a beginning, not an end.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe