In December 2018, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced he would apologize for the Government of Saskatchewan's actions during the Sixties Scoop, a government program that actively sought to separate First Nations and Métis children from their families and put them up for adoption across Canada and into the United States. Moe's predecessor, Premier Brad Wall, promised the same in 2015, but failed to follow through.
This apology was long overdue, especially since Saskatchewan's involvement in the Sixties Scoop was particularly aggressive, including the Adopt Indian and Métis (AIM) Program, which advertised the availability of Indigenous children for easy adoption.
This practice led to thousands of families losing children. These families were denied knowledge of where their children had been placed, and the children grew up without an understanding of who they were. The children were deprived of knowledge of their families, their communities and their culture. While the majority of the adopting and foster families meant well, there were many cases of physical and sexual abuse of the adopted children.
Regardless of the treatment received, this was a program in which children were selected by race to be removed from their families, adopted out and assimilated — an approach that continued the residential school aim of separating children from their home, language and culture.
With many of the children no longer with us, psychologically scarred or completely disconnected from their families and communities of origin, the Sixties Scoop has been described by scholars as an act of cultural genocide.
Given such an extreme history, people in Saskatchewan expected the province's apology to be undertaken thoughtfully and sincerely, especially due to recent instances where that was the case; Manitoba and Alberta apologized to survivors in 2015 and 2018 respectively.
It's worth noting that in both Manitoba and Alberta the apology happened within the legislative assembly. Party leaders and Indigenous Members of the legislative Assembly were given the opportunity to respond to the comments from the premier, and all of the proceedings are now part of Hansard — the official documentation of legislative proceedings.
The day started out with a beautiful pipe ceremony to which all MLAs were invited.
Moe's apology was also meant to be an encouraging change of course from his first months in the role, which have been marred by poor relations with Indigenous people, in particular his refusal to meet with child welfare advocates who spent six months camped at the legislature asking for a simple meeting.
On January 7, the apology was delivered at the Saskatchewan legislature. The day started out with a beautiful pipe ceremony to which all MLAs were invited. I was honoured to sit with legislative colleagues, Sixties Scoop survivors, elders and community members, and to participate in a smudge and a pipe ceremony.
This moment of reflection and sharing was the most meaningful of the day, and included opportunities for government and opposition leaders to express their prayers and apologies, and to listen to survivors and community leaders. All the stranger, then, that Moe was nowhere to be seen. This was a pivotal moment for humility, for a demonstration of commitment to the relationship, and he stayed away.
Sorry only counts if the behaviour stops.
It got worse: the apology itself was not held in the people's assembly, but in the rotunda outside. The symbolism of an important moment for First Nations and Métis people being relegated to the lobby was not lost on those in attendance.
When Moe did eventually show up, he gave a speech with some important moments of sympathy and regret. Overall, though, the apology was a lacklustre effort because: it didn't do enough to acknowledge wrongdoing; it included justifications of the intent behind the program; much of it was taken up by a campaign-like recitation of current government spending in the area of child welfare.
And that's where the real problem lies: the implication that the problem is all in the past, that the government Moe leads is making things better. That's simply not the case.
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There are more than 5,000 children in Saskatchewan's care today, and this number has grown in recent years. In the 1960s, about 40 per cent of the children in care were First Nations or Métis. That share has now doubled to nearly 80 per cent.
Children are still adopted out permanently without the consent of their birth parents or extended family. Perhaps most striking, an increasing number of newborn babies in Saskatchewan — more than 600 in the last five years — are taken from their parents before they even leave the hospital.
Sorry only counts if the behaviour stops. Our child welfare system is broken, and Moe's government has done nothing to find a solution.
Twenty years from now, I hope we look back at this moment and see it as the time things changed once and for all. The inadequacy of this apology and the lack of any indication of further action leaves me worried that we'll be apologizing then for the injustices of today.
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