Saving Face: Canada’s Settlement of the Ontario Sixties Scoop

by Nooria Alam

The Canadian federal government reached a settlement agreement during the month of October with the survivors of the Sixties Scoop in Ontario, after almost a decade of dragging its feet and trying to get the case thrown out of court.

The federal government has been ordered to pay $750 million to the 16,000 Ontario survivors who were stolen (“scooped”) from their families between the years 1951 to 1991 while they were children.

“I remember thinking I would’ve traded everything I had been given if I had been able to live with my father,” said Richard, an Anishinaabe survivor of the Sixties Scoop who is part of an ongoing federal class action lawsuit. “Instead, I was taken from my family by Children’s Aid Society when I was six years old.”

After being moved from home to home, he suffered from severe physical abuse and emotional trauma while living with his foster family. “I reported the abuse I was experiencing to my caseworker, but they didn’t believe me.”

Although survivors are to receive between $25,000 to $50,000 in compensation for the damage that has been done, Richard said “no amount of money can undo the harm that was inflicted” upon him and thousands of others like him at the hands of the Canadian government.

“I would have rather lived where I had access to love. I was not loved. I was not given the one requirement parents are supposed to give their children.”

Survivors like Richard lost their identity, their heritage, their culture, and their language. They were isolated from others like them and made to live away from the love and support of their families. They were forced to live with strangers in an environment that was foreign to them, and to adopt a culture and a language that was not their own.

“There was no culture. We didn’t dance, we didn’t smudge. People would laugh at others who did our cultural practices,” said Richard.

Both the former Conservative government and Trudeau’s current Liberal government have excused the actions of the federal government in court, saying people in power did what they thought was in the best interest of the child at the time. In doing so, they trivialize the thousands of lives that were destroyed and families that were broken as a direct result of their actions.

The Canadian government has received massive support from mainstream media sources for reaching this settlement, but this overshadows its long and dark history of stealing indigenous people from their communities and forcibly assimilating them into Canadian culture and society, as evidenced by the residential school system that preceded the sixties scoop and continued long after it.

A newspaper advertisement for adopting indigenous children stolen from their families during the 60s scoop.

The Government acted with the assumption that indigenous people are inferior, unable to care for themselves, and that they must be saved by being put into the custody of white settlers. Just like residential schools, rather than working to improve the poor quality of life for Indigenous people in Canada, the government’s solution was to reinforce the conditions that made it so white settlers in Canada were far better-off than the native people of this land.  

This settlement agreement is a strategic public relations campaign meant to bolster the image of the Canadian government at the expense of its Indigenous population. The positive media representation that the government has received since the announcement of the settlement agreement far outweighs the benefits of the inadequate monetary compensation that the survivors will receive.

Although the Sixties Scoop and the tactics used by the government to take children away from their parents and communities are supposedly over, its legacy lives on.

“Today, Indigenous children make up the majority of the foster care system,” said Joan, an indigenous student at the University of Toronto. This is happening even though the federal government has a supposed commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, which is about learning from the past in order to have a better future.

“We are still being forced off our reserves,” she said. “This is the government’s legacy.”

At the same time of this payout, Indigenous people in Canada continue to be actively displaced and pushed off of their land. Many are still living without access to clean water. Celebrating this payout without addressing the issues that continue to affect Indigenous people in Canada today is an injustice to those who continue to persevere in the face of Canada’s ongoing colonialism.

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