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Sixties Scoop survivors reject proposed settlement: National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network demands survivor-led consultations

By Rick Telfer

The National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network — an organization representing Sixties Scoop survivors — is demanding that the Canadian government engage in broad consultation with survivors and survivor organizations before proceeding with any settlement agreement.

National Survivors of Child Welfare gathering for Sixties Scoop survivors. Photo: niscw.org

National Survivors of Child Welfare gathering for Sixties Scoop survivors.
Photo: niscw.org

The “Sixties Scoop” refers to the large-scale removal of Indigenous children from their families, homes, and communities throughout the 1960s — though such removals began as far back as 1951 and continued until 1991. Children were adopted and fostered out primarily to white, middle-class families in Canada, the United States and western Europe. Others were sent to juvenile homes.

According to the Survivors Network, the number of children who died in care was never documented.

At a Feb. 2 press conference on Parliament Hill, Duane Morrisseau-Beck, director and co-founder of the Survivors Network, and a survivor himself, described the organization as “a coalition of Indigenous people — Métis, First Nations, and Inuit — and organizations which provide leadership, support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples affected by Indigenous child removal systems here in Canada, regardless of where they live.”

“The founders [of the Survivors Network] are Sixties Scoop survivors who had been working at creating a national voice for Sixties Scoop survivors since 2013,” he added. “We are the only national organization that is doing this work.”

The proposed settlement agreement, released on Jan. 20, seeks to settle multiple class action lawsuits in connection with the Sixties Scoop, all filed against the Canadian government during the last decade.

The lawsuits claim that survivors of the Sixties Scoop lost their cultural identities and suffered psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and physically. They further claim that the survivors were deprived of their status, their Aboriginal and treaty rights and certain monetary entitlements.

However, the Survivors Network says that the proposed settlement is inadequate and unfair.

At the press conference, Morrisseau-Beck explained that “[t]he proposed agreement systematically excludes survivors from the Métis nation, non-status Indians, and survivors who are unable to prove their Indian status.” Additionally, “[t]he agreement also requires claimants to waive their rights to pursue future litigation against the government for their outstanding claims of physical and sexual abuse — claims that have never been tested in a court of law.”

“We feel that this agreement is unfair, unreasonable, and not in the best interests of Sixties Scoop survivors,” he said.

A notice of the proposed settlement authorized by both the Ontario Superior Court and the Federal Court, and posted online at www.sixtiesscoopsettlement.info, corroborates Morrisseau-Beck’s statement: “The proposed settlement includes all registered Indians (as defined in the Indian Act) and Inuit persons or people eligible to be registered Indians or Inuit who were removed from their homes in Canada between January 1, 1951 and December 31, 1991 and placed in the care of non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents.”

Additionally, the notice outlines two remedies provided by the settlement should it be approved: first, monetary compensation to individual survivors and, second, $50 million towards the establishment of a foundation “to enable change and reconciliation and, in particular, access to education, healing/wellness and commemoration activities for communities and individuals.”

Monetary compensation for individual survivors would vary depending upon the number of claims submitted, to a maximum of $50,000 per person. The total of payouts would not exceed $750 million, however — meaning an individual would receive only $12,500 in the event, for example, of 60,000 successful claims.

When asked at the press conference for the total number of Sixties Scoop survivors, Morrisseau-Beck stated that the figure is unknown but that it “could be in the realm of 60,000 to 80,000 — maybe more.” The lack of such basic information calls for research before any settlement, he said.

In a media advisory dated Jan. 29 to announce the press conference, Colleen Cardinal, coordinator and co-founder of the Survivors Network, is quoted as saying that the “settlement does not include the most marginalized Sixties Scoop survivors: incarcerated people, people living out of the country, non-status Indians, and people who don’t know if they have status.”

Lesley Parlane, another survivor and Survivors Network member who spoke at the press conference, echoed such concerns. “The proposed settlement reflects a poorly-done investigation, and it seems to have been done without a due process involving all Sixties Scoop survivors,” she said. “By going forward without all the information about the Sixties Scoop, it seems the government is hoping to be excused of all liability and responsibility in this.”

She continued: “The compensation must be inclusive of all abuses suffered, and not with a guess at the numbers of how many actual survivors there might be out there. To not take an accurate survey of the numbers involved in the Sixties Scoop is highly dismissive and irresponsible.”

When asked at the same press conference what might be an acceptable level of monetary compensation, Cardinal replied that “it’s easy to just take money. It’s easy to just throw money at people. We want acknowledgement. We want validation. We want to be consulted. And then we’ll decide, collectively, if it’s a good deal for us.”

Parlane agreed. “What’s clear to me is that the government is ready to settle based solely on the four plaintiffs involved in this proposal,” she said. “But myself, as a survivor, I know that they aren’t representative of all people that are directly involved in the Sixties Scoop.”

She continued: “I believe that the whole history of the Sixties Scoop needs to be validated and acknowledged. The proposed compensation amounts are not in any way reflective of the full scope of the immense pain and suffering that has been experienced by myself and so many others.”

In a media advisory dated Jan. 29 to announce the press conference, Morrisseau-Beck is quoted as saying that the Survivors Network has requested a meeting with the federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett, but is “still awaiting her response.”

In an email sent to The Leveller on Feb. 2, Stephanie Palma, a spokesperson for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, called the Sixties Scoop “a dark and painful chapter in Canada’s history” and acknowledged that “there are other claims that remain unresolved, including those of the Métis and non-status” Indians. “[W]e are committed to addressing the harm suffered by others involved in the Sixties Scoop,” she added.

“In the meantime,” Palma continued, “work is progressing to establish a foundation to restore Indigenous languages and cultures as part of the settlement with those taken during the Sixties Scoop. The foundation will be accessible to Métis and non-status people. Representatives of the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network have been invited to meetings of the foundation – and we encourage them to reconsider their decision to decline these invitations and to participate in the process.”

However, the Survivors Network rejects, in Cardinal’s words, a “dialogue for the proposed Sixties Scoop settlement [that] is only being led by the federal government, mainstream media, and lawyers.”

Morrisseau-Beck and Parlane expressed similar positions.

“Canada has a duty to consult with us as Indigenous peoples and it has failed in that duty in drafting this agreement,” Morrisseu-Beck said. “For an agreement to be meaningful, the Network continues to advocate for a consultation process that incorporates survivors’ views and needs.”

Parlane likewise called for in-depth consultation with input from all survivors. Failing to do so would be “unconscionable” and “an act of deep injustice,” she said. “The Sixties Scoop was created by the federal government with the cooperation of the provincial child welfare systems. They are liable and responsible, and in the coming resolution of the Sixties Scoop this cannot be resolved without our collective cooperation.”

According to the Survivors Network, dissemination of information about the proposed settlement and its implications is another major problem. In a Feb. 2 press release, Vicky Boldo, another Survivors Network director, is quoted as stating that “[d]ocuments translated into the two ‘official’ languages are not readily available.”

In the same press release, Cardinal is quoted as stating that, in recent months, the Survivors Network has received numerous telephone calls because “lack of information from the federal government and lawyers [has] left thousands of survivors in the dark and re-traumatized without proper support.”

In an interview with The Leveller on Feb. 6, Morrisseau-Beck explained that the Survivors Network’s immediate goal is “to kibosh the agreement so that we can go back to the drawing table and redesign a proper engagement strategy and process.”

As part of its efforts to stop the proposed settlement from going forward, the Survivors Network held a live-streamed nationwide information session at the Bronson Centre in Ottawa on Feb. 19. The purpose of the session was to explain that the proposed settlement “compromises the rights of survivors and relinquishes Canada’s liability for the crimes it committed during the Sixties Scoop,” according to a Feb. 16 press release from the Survivors Network.

Additionally, the Survivors Network is building towards a “Sixties Scoop National Day of Solidarity” on Mar. 16 and encouraging survivors and allies to join or organize local rallies and events in support of the day.

The Survivors Network is also encouraging survivors to download and submit a “Notice of Objection” form with the goal of collecting at least 2,000 completed forms by Apr. 30 — the same number of opt-out forms required to defeat the proposed settlement.

To be finalized, the settlement must be approved by the courts. Hearings, at which the courts will receive submissions, are scheduled for May 10-11 in Saskatoon and for May 29-30 in Toronto.

The Survivors Network plans to attend the hearings in order to submit its objections to the proposed settlement.

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