Looking at my childhood, I’m amazed I’m still here

Hello Flatlanders,

Last summer, Canadians were horrified by the discovery of hundreds of unmarked child graves, victims lost in residential schools. And as the media, both nationally and internationally, rightly focused their attention on the impacts of this, coupled with all the reporting on the pandemic, another story may have gone unnoticed. But it’s an important one to pay attention to as Canada works towards reconciliation.

In August, former Canadian senator Murray Sinclair and a group called The 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada announced they want a federal inquiry into the 60s Scoop. Since then, other organizations and First Nations leaders have added their names to this request for an inquiry.

Public inquiries give survivors a chance to share their stories in an impactful way that validates their experiences and leads to concrete recommendations for governments to act on, according to the 60s Scoop Legacy of Canada.

So, in this week’s issue of The Flatlander, we will look at what the 60s Scoop was; how it impacted families and why a public inquiry is important to survivors that their stories be heard. I also reached out to Regina Beach artist and writer, briefly a resident of Winnipeg, Carol Rose GoldenEagle and spoke with her about her experiences in being a part of the 60s Scoop, connecting with her birth family and how she is using her writing and art, not only to heal herself, but also to share her history, her culture, which she reconnected with as an adult, and issues that are important to her with all Canadians.

What is the 60s scoop?

The term was coined by a researcher named Patrick Johnston in a 1983 report he wrote called Native Children and the Child Welfare System for the Canadian Council on Social Development, a social policy think tank. The organization is no longer active, but an archive of its work can be found online.

An “easy” solution. Provincial governments at the time figured the most efficient way to deal with Indigenous child welfare issues was to remove kids from their homes and place them with non-Indigenous families across the United States and Canada through foster care and/or adoptions.

Decades of bad government policy. Indigenous communities, some even to this day, face or faced high levels of poverty, especially those living on reserves. By the 1950s, the socio-economic barriers faced by First Nations, which in turn brought about child welfare concerns, are a direct result of having to live under federal policies that weren’t in their communities’ best interests. Requiring children to attend residential schools from 1894 to 1947 was one of those policies, which led to numerous cases of abuse and trauma.

In 1951, the federal government revised the Indian Act, which gave the provinces jurisdiction over Indigenous child welfare, but didn’t provide the financial resources to provide community supports, which is why foster care and adoption became the norm.

The 60s Scoop was also a larger strategy to force assimilation onto Indigenous children. Some officials believed adoption at a young age would prevent children from assuming their parents’ Indigenous ways.

How many children were taken?

About 20,000 children were scooped from their homes from the mid-1950s into the 1980s. Although this number could be greater, as deaths in foster homes may not have been reported properly. Some fairer-skinned youths were never told they were Indigenous. And not all records are publicly available.

Records need to be released say the Southern Chiefs’ Organization in Manitoba, which is also calling for an inquiry into the 60s Scoop. It wants all records from this time to be released by government and/or church entities.

During the 60s Scoop, even children from stable, loving homes were taken because social workers weren’t trained to assess Indigenous culture, so for instance, a family living off the land, eating a traditional diet of berries and dried meat, would have their children taken away because they didn’t have a fridge or contemporary pantry staples.

Single mothers were coerced by doctors, nurses and, or social workers to give up their children soon after birth. Sometimes they were told it was temporary to give the mother time to establish herself financially, but later these moms would find out their children had been adopted out without their consent.

Scooped siblings were often separated into different homes.  

Advertising children. During the 60s Scoop, in Saskatchewan, an adoption agency was set up by the by Saskatchewan’s Department of Social Services called AIM, which stood for Adopt Indian and Métis. AIM took out newspaper and television ads with children’s pictures. You can see some of these advertisements in this short CBC documentary Separating children from parents: The Sixties Scoop in Canada. This advertising had pushback from the Saskatchewan Native Women’s Association.

A settlement. In 2017, there was a federal settlement agreement, which set aside $750 million for those who were taken from their homes as part of the 60s Scoop. However, Métis and non-status survivors were excluded from making claims.

More is needed. As part of this settlement, the government agreed to help establish a foundation. However, survivors say they still need more healing supports and they want a federal apology.

Provincial apologies. In 2015, the Manitoba government issued an apology for its role in the 60s Scoop and Saskatchewan followed suit four years later with its own apology in 2019.

Carol’s story

Carol was born at the Grey Nuns Hospital, which is now the Pasqua, in Regina in 1963.

Although her Cree mother was a registered nurse from Sandy Bay, Sask., because she was single, Carol was immediately taken away and put up for adoption.

Carol ended up in a farming town southeast of Regina.   

“Looking at my childhood, I’m amazed I’m still here,” Carol told me over Zoom last Thursday.

Growing up, her adoptive mother would tell Carol how stupid, lazy and ugly Indigenous people were and that she was lucky she was adopted.

“As a little girl, this is what I’m hearing every day and you believe it because you’re a little girl,” said Carol.

However, racism wasn’t tolerated when her adoptive father was in the house.

In school, Carol was picked on because of her skin colour.

“There was hatred every day. I was beaten up until I got a little bigger and stronger then I started beating people up,” she said. “If you want to pick on me, get ready for a bloody nose.”

Although Carol wanted to be a writer and an artist, she would go on to be a journalist first.

In high school she was editor of her school newspaper and volunteered at the Regina radio station CKCK before attending SAIT in Calgary.

Later, she would go on to be a producer at CKRM radio in Regina and the weekend anchor at CKTV.

In 1989, Carol was the first Indigenous woman to anchor a national broadcast in Canada while hosting This Country on CBC Newsworld.

Carol would later make history again in 2000, while living in Winnipeg, as host of the APTN news program InVision News, which would eventually became APTN National News. She introduced herself to viewers using traditional language during the first newscast, which hadn’t been done at the time. You can still watch that broadcast online today.

She then spent eight years in Yellowknife as the anchor at CBC North, before returning to Saskatchewan with her three children.

Journalism was a way for Carol to reconnect with her Indigenous culture as she got to meet other Cree people.

She took up drumming after going to the Banff Centre of the Arts to do a story on a women’s drumming group that was there.

“They were incredible. I ended up bawling my eyes out because what they were doing was so profound and beautiful,” said Carol.

The women told her if you want to drum get a drum and start drumming.

So she did, even though Indigenous men would come up to her and tell her she wasn’t allowed to drum because she was a woman. Carol kept drumming anyway and today uses it as a way for her to connect non-Indigenous people to her culture when she is giving workshops and public presentations.

“Really what it is is love that is what I’m giving to you from my culture, from myself, from the heartbeat of the drum,” she said. “I’m so grateful to the creator for allowing me to embrace this gift.”

However, when Carol shared her drumming with her adopted mother it did not go well. Her mom covered her ears.

“I thought oh my God. How can you do that? Your daughter is here, happy to be sharing my culture in a way that makes me proud and you cover your ears,” said Carol, who also started dancing at pow wows. “She did not want me to embrace my culture at all.”

Carol connected with her birth family when she was in her mid-30s, however her birth mother died in a car accident before they could meet.

Carol keeps in touch with her siblings from Sandy Bay, 734 km northeast of Regina. She tries to get up there once a year and her sisters will sometimes stay with her for a few days if they are in the Regina area.

Over the years, Carol has been trying to get rid of the anger she feels over the lies her mother told her about Indigenous people being terrible.

Carol was mentored by the Saskatchewan painter Allen Sapp who encouraged her to paint. He spoke Cree to her, even though she didn’t understand it. She is still working on learning the language today.  

Carol has since left journalism and works as a writer and artist. She’s published three books and two collections of poetry.

Some of her work is based on her life as a journalist who was part of the 60s Scoop; one of her novels touches on the topic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and some of it incorporates drumming.

Carol is currently the Saskatchewan Poet Laureate.

For her, art is a way to heal past wounds, explore her culture, and create awareness about some of the more horrible aspects of Canada’s history.

Carol Rose GoldenEagle

A few reader comments:

First regarding the Jan. 4 issue A little-known industry that releases carbon bombs into air, I was asked if I could provide a link to the Facebook group For Peat’s Sake, a community-based group in Saskatchewan raising awareness about the potential impacts of the proposed peat mining project in La Ronge.

I was also asked why I linked to a frequently asked questions page to Lambert, the company proposing the peat moss mining in La Ronge. And quite honestly it’s because out of all the parties involved in the ongoing mining assessment, it lays out the Saskatchewan Environmental Review Panel process the most succinctly, and it does touch on the concerns other stakeholders have, so for those readers really interested in the issue, please keep in mind that the information, although accurate, is written in a way that slants more favourably towards the company, so I am hoping you will weigh that in context with the rest of the information that was explored in the Jan. 4 issue of The Flatlander.

Also, another Flatlander reader named Liz passed on an episode of a podcast called This Week in the Garden, which was also about peat, for those interested.

And I received some feedback from readers on last week’s issue RCMP, crime and why your property taxes could increase.

Cathy wrote:

The matter of rural policing is related to rural depopulation. When population goes down, community norms are weakened, as there are fewer people to keep the social fabric intact. There are also fewer people able to observe unusual activities, so those who have bad intent are emboldened. And with fewer people, the tax base is smaller, so police coverage is more expensive per capita. Maybe the question is more – how do we turn around rural depopulation? What can be done to make living in rural communities more attractive? How can we reverse the trend to ever larger farms…
 
While there are a lot of cards stacked against the small communities, I think there are ways for provincial and federal policies to support longer term stability in rural areas that are not destructive extraction projects or short-term construction of mega projects. Reinstating a rural bus service like STC could really help – especially with a freight service and schedules that work for passengers. There could be so many cost savings for small businesses that provide services needed for farmers and other residents if they can have less expensive and more reliable freight and transportation.
 
The revitalization of rural communities is certainly worth exploring in a future issue or two of The Flatlander.

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. Two men are suing the City of Winnipeg after allegedly hitting a snow-covered cement block while tobogganing on Garbage Hill.
  2. Blondie’s Burgers, home of Winnipeg’s nine-pound burger, is closing its doors after 31 years in business on Main Street.
  3. Vince Fontaine, an icon in Manitoba’s music and Indigenous communities, passed away suddenly at the age of 60.
  4. Manitoba’s oldest living person, who survived two global pandemics, celebrated her 111th birthday on Monday.
  5. Students walked out at several schools across Manitoba to protest the lack of safety measures to protect them against COVID-19  while truckers paraded their vehicles up and down Highway 75 near the international border to protest vaccine mandates.

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. A weather system called a Saskatchewan Screamer wreaked havoc over the United States.
  2. A $2 billion renewable diesel, canola-crushing plant is to be built in Regina in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. A Prince Albert man invents a voice-to-text mask to help the hard of hearing and deaf communicate.
  4. The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies is hiring an “Auntie in Residence” to support its students.
  5. Saskatchewan is seeing record activity in exploration for helium, as global demand rises for the gas used to manufacture semiconductors and conduct medical tests.

Photo of the week

View of River Landing along the South Saskatchewan River in downtown Saskatoon. GETTY IMAGES

Until next week…

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Thanks for reading, and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

Important work at a critical time.

Over the last 20 years, on the Prairies and beyond,  local newsrooms have shrunk, which means not much investigative journalism gets done in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Flatlander is changing this.

 

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