Saskatchewan’s apol­ogy only a first step

Winnipeg Free Press - - OUR VIEW YOUR SAY -

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.

MICHAEL BELL / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe

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