STEALING THE CHILDREN: THE SIXTIES SCOOP In 1951, the Indian Act was changed so that provincial authorities would be responsible for the welfare of Indian children. This had little effect initially. This can be seen in the British Columbia statistic for 1955 in which 29 of the 3,433 children placed in protective care in the province were Native, less than 1%. Starting in the 1960’s, however, aggressive policies of taking Native children from their families, communities, and from the Native world generally came into play. In British Columbia in 1964, the figure became 1,446 Native children out of a total of 4,228 children, or 34.2%. In his book “Native Children and the Child Welfare System”, writer Patrick Johnston coined the term “Sixties Scoop” to refer to the forced migration of aboriginal children.
The situation was the worst in Manitoba. Between 1971 and 1981, over 3,400 Native children were taken from their homes and removed from their province. More than a thousand of these children were sent to the United States, where there was a demand for children to adopt. American agencies could get $4,000 for every child placed. Native children in the United States had been adopted in a similar way until 1978, when the Indian Child Welfare Act was passed, protecting the children from being taken from their people… There is still no such law in Canada.
In 1982, the Manitoba government finally agreed to impose a moratorium on the export of children outside of the province, the last province to do so. There was an investigation into the practice. Justice Edwin C. Kimelman wrote a report in 1985 entitled ‘No Quiet Place’, based primarily on looking at the 93 children that were “exported” in 1981. He did not mince his words in his conclusions, saying: “Cultural genocide has been taking place in a systematic routine manner. One gets an image of children stacked in foster homes as used cars are stacked on corner lots, just waiting for the right ‘buyer’ to stroll by”. (as reported in Fournier and Crey 1997:88)…
WHY TAKE THE CHILDREN AWAY?
Why did they take these children from their homes and from their people? There are a number of reasons. Part of it is cultural. Non-Native social workers and agencies have in their minds a set of ideas as to what a “family” and a “good home” are like. For “family”, they think of two parents and their children, the nuclear family. However, there are strong traditions in Native cultures in Canada that think of the family as something larger than this…
Then there is the “good home” in terms of physical resources. For non-Native Canadians, this would include a separate bedroom for each child, sewage or a septic tank, and running water. Most Native houses, often structures designed by Indian Affairs, could not meet those “standards”…Sometimes the children were taken away “for health reasons”. This could mean that newborn infants needing to be in or near an urban hospital for treatment would be fostered to a non-Native family who lived nearby and would never be given back to their Native parents. This despite the fact that those parents had done nothing to abuse or even harm the children.
Where does a bricklayer, raised on British afternoon tea, who speaks some Italian and counts among his ancestors the great Sioux leaders Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, begin the process of piecing his life together? Barry (Whitecap) Hambly was born in 1967 on Carry The Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan. When he was four, his mother, Darlene Whitecap, ran from the reserve and an abusive relationship, taking Barry and his three siblings with her to Regina, 100km to the west. A victim of alcohol abuse, the 24-year-old mother would soon lose her children when social agencies intervened. This era, known as the “Sixties Scoop”, saw thousands of aboriginal children adopted into non-Native homes. Some children remained in Canada while others were sent to the U.S. and around the globe. While some have called it “assimilation”, many claim the “scoop” era to have been a cultural genocide.
Despite a loss of his aboriginal heritage, abuse from one foster family, and the emotional scars from being shuffled through 10 foster homes, Hambly considers himself one of the lucky ones. He was eventually adopted at the age of nine by Maggie and Don Hambly, a couple of British descent living in Hamilton, Ontario. Struggling through his adolescent years, chased by the ghosts of his past, Hambly landed on his feet after a “tough love” decision that saw him thrown out of his adoptive home at age 18.
Successful in the Hamilton construction business today, Hambly began his search for his birth parents and his cultural identity when an aboriginal person called him an “apple”—a slang expression referring to someone who is red on the outside, white on the inside.
Red Road shadows Barry Hambly’s journey, returning to Saskatchewan to confront his past and meet his birth mother. “After my first call to her, I knew that one day I would have to meet her face-to-face, to help me deal with the anger and answer questions I have had all my life.”
The First Nation word “waka” refers to walking a spiritual path in search of one’s origins. Barry Hambly has taken the first step down that road, the “red road”. Finding the way home is not always easy.
Red Road is produced by Lost Heritage Productions in association with Life Network, and with the financial participation of the Canadian Television Fund (CTF).
MEDIA CONTACT Dan Petrusich, Producer
Tel/Fax: 905. 385. 7260