05/19/2014 10:00 EDT | Updated 07/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Aboriginal affairs ministers ask premiers to look at '60s Scoop adoptions

WINNIPEG - Canada's aboriginal affairs ministers are asking the country's premiers to look at compensation, counselling and repatriation for thousands of aboriginal children adopted into white families during the so-called '60s Scoop.

The ministers met recently in Winnipeg and recommended that premiers set up a group to study the issue. The premiers are to meet in August in Prince Edward Island.

Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said it's time for a national discussion about the thousands of aboriginal children who were taken from their communities and raised in non-native households from the 1960s to the 1980s.

"It's an issue that's long gone unnoticed," he said in an interview. "Nobody talks about it. This is one of those issues that doesn't require a hell of a lot of thinking. It's common sense. It's common decency that we begin addressing this."

It's estimated that up to 20,000 aboriginal children were taken from their homes by child welfare services and placed with non-aboriginal families. Many consider the adoptions an extension of residential schools, which aimed to "take the Indian out of the child.''

Adoptees from the '60s Scoop have said their time for reconciliation has come and they want an apology from the federal government. Robinson, himself a residential school survivor, said what they experienced was just as traumatic.

"In my case, at least I had other Indian boys and other Indian kids my age to be around," Robinson said. "In the case of these kids who were adopted out, they had nobody. They were a brown face among a mass of white faces either in the United States or in foreign lands.

"In some ways, they had it a lot worse."

For Coleen Rajotte, a premiers working group would be a start. The filmmaker was taken from her Cree community in Saskatchewan when she was three months old and raised by a Manitoba family.

She was lucky to be placed with a loving family, she said, but many ended up in abusive homes and treated like household help.

"Lives have been scarred forever," Rajotte said.

If the premiers form a study group, Rajotte hopes it will work toward more counselling — and possibly compensation — for adoptees. And, in the long term, Canadians need to be properly educated about "this dark part of our history," she said.

"I would like to see a formal national apology, more education and more efforts put into finding the adult adoptees who are still out there. I would like research done on how many adoptees have come home, how many are still out there, and help to bring back the adoptees who are still missing."

Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, who will chair the August meeting, is also his province's aboriginal affairs minister. He wasn't available for an interview.

"We're really not in a position to speak to this," spokesman Guy Gallant said in an email.

Gallant said the premiers meeting will coincide with a gathering of the aboriginal affairs working group, but the two discussions are separate.