Notley’s Sixties Scoop apology provides chance for emotional release and further action on Indigenous issues
Mon., May 28, 2018
EDMONTON—As Premier Rachel Notley delivered a historic apology to Sixties Scoop survivors Monday, Mary Jane Mitchelle held her face in her hands and wept.
Listening from the rotunda, Mitchelle, 62, said her thoughts were with the five children she had taken from her as a result of a system that “denied motherhood” to countless other Indigenous women over decades.
“I am so angry, I was crying I was so angry. Today, all of me came out and I couldn’t control myself,” said Mitchelle.
The Sixties Scoop refers to a government campaign that took tens of thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their families and communities after an amendment to the Indian Act put control of child and family services in the hands of provincial governments starting in 1951 and lasting through the 1980s.
Mitchelle said the apology delivered in the Legislative Chamber Monday offered a starting point for healing.
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“I feel in my heart that it’s time for me to accept this apology, and I can’t hate and I can’t be angry anymore,” she said.
“For the loss of families, of stability, of love, we are sorry,” said Notley. “For the loss of identity, of language and culture, we are sorry. For the loneliness, the anger, the confusion and the frustration, we are sorry. For the government practice that left you, Indigenous people, estranged from your families and your communities and your history, we are sorry. For this trauma, this pain, this suffering, alienation and sadness, we are sorry.”
Following the apology, Adam North Peigan, president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta, was greeted with cheers, drum beats and applause when he stood on the steps of the legislature and called out to the crowd, “today is a historic day for the province of Alberta, and all Indigenous people.”
“We accept your apology with the understanding that this is only the beginning,” said North Peigan. “Reconciliation begins with sincere apology, there is so much work to do and we are going to continue to keep the Government of Alberta and Premier Rachel Notley accountable.”
After the Government of Alberta issued an official apology for abuse suffered by Indigenous children in residential schools in 2015, North Peigan said he sent his first letter to the premier calling for an apology acknowledging Alberta’s role in the Sixties Scoop.
Survivors have been waiting to hear an apology ever since.
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Through his efforts and other members of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta, more than 800 survivors from across the province were heard and consulted in drafting Monday’s apology.
Notley commended them for their courage.
“You didn’t just share the trauma of what was done to you, you spoke truth to power, you spoke truth to the same power, the same institution, the government that inflicted this trauma on you,” she said, acknowledging that the apology came from the same chamber floor where many of the decisions that contributed to their suffering were made.
“The scars of this tragedy still linger, some as fresh as they were a generation ago,” Notley said.
David Swann, leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, pointed to the high proportion of Indigenous children still in foster care in Alberta today as a sign of what has been called the millennium scoop.
A 2011 Statistics Canada study cited in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report found 3.6 per cent of all First Nation children were in foster care, compared with just 0.3 per cent of non-Indigenous children in Canada.
“Two thirds of children in Alberta in care come from our Indigenous communities, despite Indigenous Albertans only comprising 10 per cent of our population,” said Swann.
“It’s time for tangible change in all relations with Indigenous communities of all three levels of government,” Swann continued. “Only then can we confidently say there will be no more scoops, no millennium scoop.”
Notley said, “for an apology to be worth anything it must also carry with it a promise.”
“No one knows what Indigenous children and families need better than First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. We will honour that. We will work together with you, your families, your elders and your communities to correct historical injustices and find a path to true reconciliation,” said Notley.
Minister of Children’s Services Danielle Larivee echoed Notley’s sentiment, saying, “reconciliation means actually listening to and working with our Indigenous communities as partners. I think that has been absent in the past, but our commitment — and we are already taking action on that and working on that — is that as we take action going forward, any action plan will be done in concert with and co-developed with our Indigenous partners.”
An action plan, based on recommendations from Alberta’s child intervention panel aimed at making Alberta’s system better for Indigenous people, is expected in June.
Sixties Scoop survivor Suzanne Wilkinson, who was adopted into a non-Indigenous family weeks after her birth, said the apology will likely bring a great sense of healing to other survivors.
“When you tell your story, when you honour your truth, when you state who you are and where you’re from as best you can, you start to mend if you’re broken, and all Sixties Scoop survivors are broken. We start out that way because of our circumstance,” she said, saying Sixties Scoop survivors were a “missing link” on the path to reconciliation.
Claire Theobald is an Edmonton-based reporter who covers crime and the courts. Follow her on Twitter: @clairetheobald
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