Survivors of the ’60s Scoop in Saskatchewan are hoping an apology from the provincial government comes with action to reduce the number of children in care.
About 20,000 Indigenous children were seized from their birth families and relocated to non-Indigenous homes starting in the 1950s until the late 1980s.
The practice stripped them of their language, culture and family ties.
Survivor Kerry Opoonechaw-Bellegarde, who is 43, said Saskatchewan needs to do more than say sorry.
“An apology is really easy to put together, but for it to have meaning behind it, (the province needs) to prove to us that there’s something going on behind the scenes.”
Opoonechaw-Bellegarde, who is from Regina, plans to be there in person for the apology and hopes to speak with Moe to ask him to rework foster care in the province.
The number of children in out-of-home care in Saskatchewan stood at 5,227 at the end of September.
“Too many babies (are) growing up without their mom and dad,” Opoonechaw-Bellegarde said.
George Scheelhaase, 49, is a survivor who wonders how the government can apologize when Indigenous parents are still losing children to foster care and child and family services in what he says are record numbers.
“It’s the same thing that’s been happening since they first started taking us away. Nothing’s changed,” Scheelhaase said. “What’s an apology when there’s no change?”
Government officials declined interview requests.
The government has said it has an agreement with an association of ’60s Scoop survivors that compensation will not be part of the apology.
A federal court last year approved a $750-million agreement that would see Ottawa pay survivors as much as $50,000 each. An effort by some plaintiffs to challenge the settlement was tossed by a judge in November.
Survivor Christina Nakonechny said it’s not just about money, but about making things right.
“Money doesn’t take away everything that happened,” she said. “I feel I was erased. My grandchildren don’t know any of their uncles or aunties.”
Sharing circles were held in Saskatchewan in October and November for survivors to talk about their experiences. Government officials attended and Opoonechaw-Bellegarde said the one she participated in was intense.
She said the session opened wounds for some survivors and she expects a lot of tears during the apology.
Robert Doucette, a survivor and co-chair of an association of ’60s Scoop survivors, said the sharing circles were useful. A report from the association was presented to the government caucus Dec. 3 and Doucette believes the message was heard.
He, too, hopes the apology brings a change and suggests it’s one of the first steps in reconciliation.
“I wanted to hear the government say sorry for what they did,” he said from Saskatoon. “It only validates what we believed all along that, due to circumstances, our family was not wrong for what was going on.”
Opoonechaw-Bellegarde, whose parents were residential school survivors, hopes Moe also apologizes to survivors’ parents.
“That was their kids taken away for no reason,” she said. “I’m sure they suffered immensely.”
—By Ryan McKenna
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