Sixties Scoop society launches in B.C. to support survivors

It’s taken years of work to get the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of BC (SSISBC) off the ground.

The newly-launched organization is dedicated to supporting survivors of the Sixties Scoop, the catch-all name for a series of policies that saw thousands of Indigenous children taken by social workers, adoption agencies and churches and placed in mostly white foster and adoptive homes between the 1950s and early 1990s.

The BC society hopes to connect survivors across the province and support them in healing from their experiences, as well as raise public awareness about the Sixties Scoop.

“We just want to be recognized… Indigenous assimilation hasn’t happened yet. Indigenous genocide hasn’t happened yet, as hard as it’s been pushed. We’re still here,” said RavenSong Pamela Abraham, Vancouver-based president of the SSISBC .

“Just because we’re missing from the reserves doesn’t mean we’re missing in life,” she added.

SSIBC joins other organizations, such as the national non-profit 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada, in supporting and advocating for survivors of the Sixties Scoop.

According to the Sixties Scoop Network, over 22,500 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forcibly taken as part of the practice, which peaked in the 1960s. It has been widely criticized as an attempt at forced assimilation by the colonial government.

Many families were never told where their children were taken.

“I would like to see us be able to facilitate reunification, and to facilitate some of us returning home, and being able to facilitate it in a way where we can assist them through the whole process,” Abraham said.

Chief Marcia Brown Martel, the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit related to the Sixties Scoop, drums out of Center Block on Parliament Hill in October 2017. (Adrian Wild/Canadian Press)

Settlement ‘blood money’ used to fund society

For Abraham, who was taken as a child from her home community of Fort Providence, NWT, being a Sixties Scoop survivor is “like [being] a bird or an airplane, circling, looking for a place to land.”

She says she is using money received from a 2017 class action settlement agreement with survivors to fund project costs for the society, including the domain name for their new website.

The settlement agreement set aside $750 million of federal money to compensate First Nations and Inuit children who were taken from their families between 1951 and 1991.

“I’ve been sitting on this money since it came in because, to me, it’s blood money, and it’s never going to give me back what I lost. But if I can help more of us to get back a little bit of what we lost, then we all win,” said Abraham.

‘They’re not alone’

Elizabeth Charlie was working toward the same goal of a support society long before she met Abraham about four years ago.

Taken from the Kwakwaka‘wakw First Nation on Vancouver Island as a child, Charlie says she knew nothing of the Sixties Scoop until her 20s, despite living through it herself.

Last year, the pair started meeting with other survivors across BC, and started taking steps to formally launch the society.

Long before they met, RavenSong Pamela Abraham and Elizabeth Charlie had thought of forming an organization dedicated to supporting Sixties Scoop survivors in BC (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“I think it’s phenomenal … bringing all these different survivors together is pretty immense to witness,” said Charlie, who is vice-president of the new organization.

“I want to reach all the Sixties Scoopers and [let them] know they’re not alone,” she said. “I was alone in my healing for a long time.”

Push for provincial apology

One of the organization’s goals is to advocate for more recognition of the complex experiences of Sixties Scoop survivors in BC

They are also calling for outgoing BC Premier John Horgan to issue a formal apology for the provincial government’s role in enacting the policies, something Abraham describes as a starting point for reconciliation and an opportunity for Horgan.

He’s planning to [step down]and I think it would be a wonderful way for him to go out on a gesture of reconciliation, saying that we were all the same and we all count,” Abraham said.

Premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have made similar apologies, and there have been calls for a federal apology by the Sixties Scoop Network and the 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada.

An undated photo of Cleopatra Semaganis Nicotine, who was taken into government care in the early 1970s as part of the Sixties Scoop and adopted into non-Indigenous families in Canada and the United States. A CBC podcast, Finding Cleo, followed her Cree family’s search for her 50 years later. (Provided by the Semaganis family)

SSISBC has also launched a food security program for elder survivors through a grant-funded partnership with BC Farmers’ Markets: society members over 65 are eligible for coupons that can be used at a network of markets across the province to buy fresh produce and groceries.

“It’s a start. It’s a way of getting our feet wet and getting people to know who we are,” said Abraham.

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