POLITICS

Sixties Scoop: Manitoba Becomes First Province To Formally Apologize

06/18/2015 04:00 EDT | Updated 06/17/2016 05:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - Marlene Orgeron and her brothers were seized from her Manitoba reserve when she was three.

Her uncle protested and was told by social workers he would be arrested if he tried to stop them. Orgeron says she was robbed of her identity, taken to New Orleans where she was abused mentally and physically by a white family.

"I grew up wanting to die, wanting the pain to end," a crying Orgeron recalled before a gathering of other adoptees at the Manitoba legislature. "I spent the last 20 years putting myself back together."

On Thursday, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger apologized to Orgeron and thousands of other victims.

"I would like to apologize on behalf of the Province of Manitoba for the '60s Scoop — the practice of removing First Nation, Métis and Inuit children from their families and placing them for adoption in non-Indigenous homes, sometimes far from their home community, and for the losses of culture and identity to the children and their families and communities," Selinger told a packed gallery of adoptees, supporters and aboriginal leaders.

"With these words of apology and regret, I hope that all Canadians will join me in recognizing this historical injustice."

It is the first apology from a Canadian province recognizing a period of history many see as akin to the dark chapter of Indian residential schools. An estimated 20,000 aboriginal children were taken by child-welfare agents starting in the 1960s and placed with non-aboriginal families.

That practice — which stripped those children of their language, culture and traditions — has left "intergenerational scars" similar to those of residential schools, Selinger said. Manitoba will raise the '60s Scoop at the next roundtable on missing and murdered aboriginal women and ensure it will be included in the provincial school curriculum, he promised.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, himself a residential school survivor, said the apology is "only the first step toward total reconciliation."

Adoptees were subjected to medical exams and treated "like we were pets," he said.

"The struggles carry on to this very day."

Coleen Rajotte, who was taken from her Cree family in Saskatchewan and raised in Winnipeg, said the apology is the beginning of an important conversation. There are many stories still left to be told and children who have never been found, she said.

"Imagine someone kicking down your doors, snatching your children and not telling them where they are going. You have no idea when they'll be back.

"That's what happened to 20,000 of us."

The apology marks "an historic day" but the real reconciliation has just begun, she said.

Class-action lawsuits have been filed in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan and aboriginal leaders have said they hope the apology is accompanied by action.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs suggested there should be a DNA data centre that could help reunite families. The province also needs to address the record number of aboriginal kids still under the control of Child and Family Services, he added.

Manitoba has more than 10,000 kids in care and the vast majority are aboriginal.

"Today's CFS is taking children and dislocating them significantly from the ones they love, denying them of identity," Nepinak said.

David Chartrand, head of the Manitoba Metis Federation, said the province didn't talk with the Metis prior to the apology and consultation is now needed for a clear plan of action.

"There is no strategy," Chartrand said. "What are the next steps? Nobody knows."

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