The Sixties Scoop thirty years later.(cases of adoptions of native children): An article
from: Inroads: A Journal of Opinion
A RAPID INCREASE IN NATIVE ADOPTION BY WHITES FOLLOWED THE CLOSING OF residential schools for Native children. In 1951, the federal government amended the Indian Act, delegating responsibility for Aboriginal health and welfare to the provinces. By the late 1970s, “as many as one in three status Indian or Metis children were removed – at least temporarily – from their homes. In some provinces, one in two spent a childhood as a permanent ward of the government. Many were adopted into white homes” (Ottawa Citizen, April 18, 1998).
Native activists and others refer to this frenzy of custody and adoption as the “Sixties Scoop.” Depending on one’s point of view, it was a necessary response to alcoholism and child abuse on Native reserves; wellintentioned but a fiasco in its application; or the wrenching of children away from good families in a continuance of federal and provincial government policies of forced assimilation or genocide.
Statistics are hard to gather. There are Native adoptees who speak positively and gratefully of their experience with white adoptive parents, but there seem to be a great many more horror stories: of physical and sexual abuse by adoptive parents; of racism from schoolmates and from (adoptive) family relatives. Further, there seems to have been little awareness of the possible presence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effect, or, as one the round-table participants points out, of Reactive Attachment Disorder, said to result from children not bonding property in their very early years.
A more general problem seems to have been the complete absence of preparation of prospective adoptive parents for the almost inevitable difficulties of raising a visibly different child in a heterogeneous milieu. People adopting children from Asia or Latin America, a phenomenon that has grown rapidly since the eighties, are now strongly advised to involve their children in their cultures of origin. This was, through ignorance or design, apparently not the case for Native adoptees.
By the mid-198os, under pressure from Native organizations and following a number of provincial inquiries, white adoption of Native children had more or less ended. As a result, more Native children are now under state or short-term foster care; few would argue that either is an improvement on adoption.
This Inroads roundtable includes four people, participants in an organization called Advocacy for Native Adoptees. This roundtable differs from those in previous issues due to the sensitivity of the issues discussed. As a result, names have been changed, as have details that might identify a participant. Where necessary, such changes have been indicated by [square brackets].
The four participants are between 25 and 32 years of age and were originally from a variety of First Nations in different parts of the country. All were adopted by white families resident in Montreal. One of the participants is employed in computer design, one works in a native shelter, one is a student, one works in the area of Native culture and religion. Two are married and have children.
The following is an edited version of a discussion that took place, in Montreal, on January 24, 2001. I am extremely grateful to the participants for allowing me, briefly, into their lives.
INROADS: Tell me about Advocacy for Native Adoptees (ANA).
BOB: We started ANA because it was needed. We had a local program, here in Montreal, where we would share resources and try to come up with programming that would help us get back to our culture or community. We also wanted it to be a national group to advocate for Native adoptees, and to let Native people know what happened to us. A lot of our own people don’t know about adoption and what happened and the scale that it happened. We started advocating politically to get some of our rights back. A lot of our rights have been lost. We tried to get the rights of adoptees known and help people acquire their status cards, and help people get back to their communities – a repatriation service. Our vision was to help people go through the channels that were established and develop other channels that hadn’t been established – to try to bypass a lot of the government red tape that’s out there when it comes to finding your parents.
ANNE MARIE: I was there at the inception of the group. It was basically a support group, but it became more and more political. There was a board of directors, and people wanted to be the president and vice-president. It became too much about position rather than action, so I left. At that point I was in the middle of looking for my parents. I had talked to other Native adoptees who were also looking for their parents. I wanted the group to be about what Bob was talking about – cutting through red tape and finding Native people’s families and helping them reconnect with their communities.
BARBARA: We all had ideas about what the group should do and some of us left because we couldn’t cooperate.
BOB: There was a lot of conflict. People had agendas and some of us felt that issues weren’t being addressed. I believe that adoption was part of the government’s plan of cultural assimilation and genocide. It wasn’t done in the best interests of the child. The social services say that the child’s interests are always taken into account, but I don’t see it in what happened. No criteria were ever formed. And it happened on such a large scale, but statistics are hard to get.
BARBARA: When I came to the group, I thought there were a lot of issues we should address. I felt it wasn’t very productive to have presidents and people vying for positions. We tried to discuss different ideas but nothing seemed to materialize, so I lost patience with it. I was trying to push a lot of ideas about what we should do, but I think I just shouldn’t have worried about it too much.
JACK: When we first sat down, we decided there wasn’t going to be a president. We were all equal because that’s what we believed was a traditional Native setting.
BOB: It’s been non-stop growing pains. The Aboriginal Workforce Association of Montreal sponsored us and gave us a free office. We had an employee – I don’t know if she was a total twit or a genius at slacking, but she knew all her rights, all the labour laws, and we ended up without an employee. We didn’t have the proper mechanisms to give it a proper direction. It divided us. My perception is that a lot of people in our group were still going though issues about adoption. People were going through different things: coming back to the Native community, fitting in, dealing with bad adoptions. Some of us had a good childhood but experienced other negative things. All these issues kept coming to the table and cluttering things.
INROADS: What was most important about the group?
BOB: For me it was finding out that adoption was such an issue. I thought it was just an issue for me.
JACK: For me it was knowing that there were other Native adoptees out there with similar experiences. And socializing with them probably made me a better person. I’m not being prejudiced, but being around white people or French people or any other person is a different experience. When I meet another Native person, I’ll walk up to them and say, “Hi, where are you from?” With any other nationality, it’s like being in the metro where you don’t smile or anything.
INROADS: Did you know Native people before you joined the group?
JACK: A few. But I didn’t even know what a Native was until I was 13 or 14.
ANNE MARIE: I didn’t meet a Native person until I was 18 – or if I had I didn’t know it. People ask me if I would have rather grown up in the Native community and I want to say yes, but I can’t, because you can’t live dual lives and compare them, you can’t say that one is better than another. But it was rough. The whole time I was in elementary school they called me “contaminated” – that was my name for five years. I knew it was negative, but I didn’t make the connection with racism until high school. But until I went to the Native friendship centre, I had never been with another Native or Inuit woman or man.
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