CANADA: The 60s Scoop: The Repatriation Process

During the 1960’s, the Children’s Aid Society removed aboriginal children from their families and communities. They either placed them in foster care or adoption them in Canadian homes either outside of their community, or out of province and outside of the country. This is referred as the 60’s Scoop. The 60’s Scoop refers to the adoption of aboriginal children in Canada between  ears of 1960 and mid 1980’s. This period is unique in the annals of adoption.

This phenomenon coined the 60’s Scoop, is so named because the highest numbers

of adoptions took place in the decade of the 1960. In many instances, children

were literally scooped from their homes without knowledge or consent of

families and/or their communities. Many First Nations charged that in many

cases were consent was not given, government authorities and social workers

acted under the colonial assumption that native people were culturally inferior

and unable to adequately provide for the needs of the children. Many First

Nations believe that the forced removal was a deliberate act of genocide


It was only in the 1980s, that one group of aboriginal peoples, the First

Nations started a movement to prevent children being removed from communities.

These numbers began to decrease as a result of these efforts. A resolution was

brought forward at the All Ontario Chiefs Conference in December 1981.

Resolution 81/19 indicated that First Nations communities would begin planning

their own Native Child Welfare Authorities to assist in reconnecting adoptees

and foster children with their families and communities. (Resolution 81/19)

“The act specifies that, in determining the best interest of any child,

cultural background must be considered by acknowledging the importance, in

recognition of the uniqueness of Indian and native culture, heritage and

traditions of preserving the child’s cultural identity. The Act also requires

that Indian foster children be placed with extended families and that customary

child welfare arrangements based on traditional practices be recognized and

subsidized. Part X and regulations 206. Part X (Ss 191 to 196)….authorizes

the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services to designate…an

aboriginal group as a Native community and to enter into agreements with the

community to from a mandated child and family services authority. To

accommodate cultural differences between mainstream Canada and Aboriginal

communities, Reg.206 provides a mechanism for the exemption of these

authorities from any part of the Act…. One (Native Child Welfare) agency,

Ojibway Tribal Family Services of Kenora chose not to deal with the Province

and provides child and family services through separate agreements with Indian

and Northern Affairs…(Timpson, Joyce. Indian and Native Special Status in

Ontario’s Child Welfare Legislation: An overview of the Social, Legal and

Political Context, Canadian Social Work Review, Vol 7,No 1 ( winter 1990)

In the United States a similar system has been developed: In the United States,

this principal has resulted in the development of the Indian Child Welfare Act

which gives Indian Bands special legal protection in the event of intervention

by child welfare authorities… Legislation…could be enacted to reinforce

communal responsibility. Such provisions exist in the American Indian Child

Welfare Act, whereby the parents, tribe and Indian custodian must be legally

notified when child welfare authorities make application for wardship. Each

party has the right to make legal representation and each has access to the

agency records on the situation in question. (Hudson, P & McKenzie, B (1981),

“Child Welfare and Native People: The Extension of Colonialism” The Social

Worker, Vol.49, No 2, pg.66) ( Janet Budgell, Stevenato and Associates:

Repatriation of Aboriginal Families – Issues, Models and a Workplan)

In addition, a companion resolution was brought forward at the national level

for First Nations, (that is, Indian Bands under the Indian Act). This

resolution dealt specifically with the repatriation process for children

removed from First Nation communities. The Assembly of First Nations Annual

Assembly on July 22, 1999 in Vancouver, B.C. Resolution No. 10/99 indicated,

“Therefore may is be resolved that National Chief Phil Fontaine support and

assist the First Nation communities of Canada in their efforts to secure

adequate funding for repatriation programs from the Federal and Provincial

Government of Canada.”


Other sectors in Canadian society began to take notice of this social and legal

issue as well. This is most aptly described by Geoffrey York who discussed the

similarities between residential schools and the Sixties Scoop. In his work, he

quotes Kinelman who said,

“That cultural genocide has been taking place in a systematic, routine manner.

(Referring to the Sixties Scoop) …the provincial child welfare policy was

remarkably similar to the old policy of sending Native Children to residential

schools. Indeed, the seizure of Indian children began to escalate just as

residential schools were winding down in the 1960’s. In this way, the child

welfare system simply replaced the residential school system, producing the

kind of damaging effects on the native culture. It became the new method of

colonizing Indian people after the residential school was fully discredited”

(York, Geoffrey: The Dispossessed page 214)

I will now discuss the efforts of the children who were affected by this. One

of their main efforts is directed towards repatriation. Many of the adoptees

and those who were placed in foster care are now adults, searching for their

families and communities. Repatriation of First Nations adoptees, foster

children and birth parents has to be addressed. There are more people who are

searching for their families. There is not a framework set in place to help

them. A full time First Nation Repatriation Program has not been established in

Ontario at this point in time.

Repatriation is a process where the community reestablishes ties between the

children and the community. There are different reasons why people seek

repatriation, which may include: to meet their biological parents or family (do

not always want to establish a relationship), to find out about their medical

history, to understand their cultural identity and roots, learn about their

background, to obtain an explanation as to why they were apprehended, to

reconnect with family (to feel they belong somewhere), to move to community,

and to regain Indian status, (if they are eligible under the membership

provisions of the Indian Act). Families and communities as well may want to

locate people who were taken from them.

Reunion is the beginning of the unraveling of the damage done to Indigenous

families and communities by forcible policies. For individuals, their

articulated needs to trace their families are diverse. People need to have a

sense of belonging and a sense of their own identity. It is important for most

people to know their direct and extended family. Reunion is often an essential

part of the process of healing when the separation has been so painful. As link

-up ( NSW) told the inquiry into this issue, “You have to know where you come

from before you can know where you are going”

Although there are some Native Child Welfare agencies assisting with

repatriation, there is a need for a full time Repatriation Program in Ontario.

At present there are programs in Manitoba (Manitoba Repatriation Program) and

British Columbia (United Native Nations Re-connection Program, Wet’su wet’en

Repatriation Program).

Repatriation efforts are supplemented by services that are provided by

government agencies in Ontario who assist with searches. This is a limited

Repatriation process, through the Adoption Disclosure Register (ADR) and the

Children’s Aid Society (CAS). Some adoptees are not aware of these services,

cannot pay the fee and there is a long waiting list for the search. The clients

are referred service that the registry provides is to refer clients to CAS who

provide counseling. Sometimes to the agency social workers that were involved

in the loss of their child to adoption. First Nations people have not forgotten

their experience of losing their children to the province, therefore are

reluctant to meet with these social workers. Therefore, will not utilize the

counseling services provided.

This provincial process will now be discussed. In starting a search the adoptee

must have a copy of their Order of Adoption. The Adoption Order can be ordered

for $15.00 from the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. The

Adoption Order usually takes about four to six weeks. Non-identifying

information can be obtained through the Children’s Aid Society. If the adoption

was private they can apply to Ministry of Community and Social Service. The

waiting list runs from six to maybe several years. The adoptee can also apply

to the Adoption Registry (ADR) the adoptee fills out the form and their name is

added to the registry. If a match is made, the adoptee is contacted for a

reunion. This waiting list is about two years. The only exception for moving to

the top of the list is medical reasons. Fostered individuals can apply for

their Statement of Live Birth, since they were not legally adopted.

Applications can be obtained from the Vital Statistics Department which cost


Many of these children adopted in the 1960’s into the early 1980’s were also

adopted in the Untied States and other countries, therefore, do not realize

that they have entitlement to treaty status or do not even know what treaty

Indian Status means. Some adopted children weren’t even told that they are

First Nation by their adopted parents/foster parents and grew up thinking they

were the nationality of their adopted parents such as French or Italian.

Children’s Aid Society and the Adoption agency did not inform the adopted

parents about their adopted child’s identity as a First Nations person. It

becomes even more problematic when you consider this issue in regards to Metis

children who were taken away from their communities. They do not have the legal

framework that First Nations have.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal People: Gathering Strength (1996) states:

The removal of Aboriginal children from their communities through

cross-cultural foster placement and adoption is a second major cause of family

disruption. Children removed from their families are severed from their roots

and grow up not knowing what it is to be Inuit, M�tis or a First Nation member.

Yet they are set apart from their families and communities by visible

difference and often made to feel ashamed of their origins. At the same time,

their home communities and extended families are robbed of part of the next


The process for membership within Indian Act communities is well established.

At age 18, First Nation adoptee may apply for their Indian Status to the

Federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs before applying for any

additional information from the Ministry of Community and Social Services and

/or the agency that handled your adoption. You should do this even if you don’t

have proved of being native. Because there is such limited information

available under the current adoption practices, you are not required to prove

your entitlement to status. The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs will

contact the agency that handled your adoption and will determine your

eligibility to status. If you receive status your band will be identified which

will lead you to the name of the community that your first family comes from.

There is a 10 month waiting list for this to begin and the Department of Indian

and Northern Affairs will have to also wait for a response from the adoption


In the 1983 publication of Native Children and the Child Welfare System,

prepared for the Canadian Council on Social Development by Patrick Johnson, his

analysis showed consistent over representation of Aboriginal children in the

child welfare system across the country.

Within the general picture of over-representation there were wide regional

variations. In 1981-82 the percentage of Aboriginal children in care, as

percentage of all children in care in various provinces ranged from a low of

2.6 per cent in Quebec to a high of 63 per cent in Saskatchewan.

Child in care rates in the Maritime Provinces were in the lower range. New

Brunswick, 3.9 per cent; Nova Scotia, 4.3 per cent; and Prince Edward Island,

10.7 per cent. An estimate of the number of Aboriginal Children in care in

Newfoundland and Labrador placed the rate at around 8 per cent.

Ontario’s overall rate of 7.7 per cent masked the fact that in northern Ontario

child welfare agencies the proportion of Aboriginal children in care was

extremely high – an estimated 85 per cent in the Kenora-Patricia agency, for


Intermediate ranges were found in other western provinces: Manitoba, 32 per

cent; Alberta, 41 per cent (including delinquent children on probation and

children with disabilities receiving special services); and British Columbia,

36.7 per cent. The Yukon, with 61 per cent, still had over- representation of

Aboriginal children despite the higher proportion of aboriginal in the general


The Northwest Territories, with First Nations, M�tis and Inuit children making

up 45 per cent of children in care, was the only jurisdiction where the

representation of Aboriginal children was not disproportionate.


In conclusion, the impact on aboriginal adoptees and foster children who were

taken away during the 60’s Scoop include some of the following: loss of

identity, loss of family roots, grow up feeling different, difficulty with

relationships, difficulty raising their children, alcoholism, grief and

abandonment and some may even feel unworthy of love. This quote by past

respected Elder, Alex Skead, encapsulates this.

“Our young people are having a hard time; they are committing suicide, having

problems with alcohol. They can get straightened out by learning of the old

ways, our connection to the creator. Our culture is all around, just look

outside, it is there, in that tree, in that water. I always encourage young

people to go to school, get a good education, but do not lose your culture,

that is what makes you strong,” ( quoted in Kulchyski Peter, McCaskill Don,

Newhouse David: The Words of Elders: Aboriginal Cultures in Transition).

The mid-twentieth century abduction of aboriginal children greatly compounded

the spiritual and cultural losses suffered by all aboriginal peoples in the

time since contact. As an Elder sadly asked the B.C. government at a 1992


“Where are our artisans, our weavers, fishermen, medicine people, dancers,

shamans, sculptures and hunters? For thirty years, generations of our children,

the future of our communities, have been taken away from us. Will they come

home as our leaders knowing the power and tradition of our, their people? Or

will they come home broken and in pain, not knowing who they are, looking for

the family that died of a broken heart?” (quoted in Fournier,Suzanne, Grey,

Ernie: Stolen From Our Embrace: The Abduction of First Nations Children and the

Restoration of Aboriginal Communities.)

Kenn Richard, Executive Director of Native Child and family Services of Toronto

told the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People hearing.

“Most of our clients- probably 90 percent of them – are in fact victim

themselves of child welfare system. Most of our clients are young, sole support

mothers who were often are removed as children themselves. So we are dealing

with perhaps the end product of the sixties scoop. Actually the Sixties Scoop

last well into the 70’s…The other interesting note is that while the mother

my have been in foster care the grandmother- I think we all know where she was.

She was in residential school. So we are into a third generation

According to the Eye Weekly, Stolen Nation, “When former Indian Affairs

Minister Jan Stewart made her historic apology to the aboriginal peoples of

Canada on Jan 8, 1998, she singled out native residential schools as the most

reprehensible example of Canada’s degrading and paternalistic Indian policies.

Designed to assimilate native children into English ways. Though none would

disagree with Stewards condemnation of residential schools, which phased out in

1960’s, some wondered why she didn’t apologize for the equally assimilationist

– if less well known – strategy that followed immediately in the schools wake:

the wide spread adoption of aboriginal children out to non native families in

60’s, 70’s, and early 80’s … Child Welfare picked up where residential school

left off.

The lesser known story is the child welfare story and its assimilationist

program. And you have to remember that none of this was written as policy:

We’ll assimilate aboriginal kid’s openly through residential schools and after

we close the residential schools we’ll quietly pick up with child welfare. It

was never written down, but it was an organic process, part of the colonial

process in general.”

In closing, when a child is removed from his natural mother, ties are severed

forever, until one day the child finds his/her way home. The child no longer a

child, he/she are an adult searching for his/her identity. As First Nations

people, we possess the ability to create a difference for our children…by

establishing a First Nations Repatriation Program in Ontario.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s