Over the past six years, while working at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, I’ve seen a significant growth of awareness among students and community groups about the history residential schools. Granted, this awareness can still be hit and miss and there are definitely still many misconceptions about residential schools, however an increasing number of visitors come to the Centre with at least some knowledge about residential schools.
The same cannot be said for the sixties scoop. While discussing residential schools and colonial relationships in Canada I often discuss other legislation which has negatively impacted Indigenous communities and this includes talking about the sixties scoop.
The phrase sixties scoop was first used in the 1983 report Native Children and the Child Welfare System written by Patrick Johnston. The term refers to the mass removal of Indigenous children from their families into the child welfare system. This removal was often done without the consent of families or communities and children were frequently placed in white Euro-Canadian homes.
The legacy of residential schools is directly connected to the sixties scoop. In 1960 the Government of Canada estimated that 50% of the students in the residential school system were there for ‘child welfare’ reasons. As the government began phasing out the residential school system the practice of removing Indigenous children from their homes and placing them in government care was drastically accelerated. Provincial and territorial governments, which often had no understanding of Indigenous systems of care or ways of life, imposed Euro-Canadian standards of care on communities, often resulting in Indigenous homes being deemed ‘unfit’ for children. The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples reported that between 1960 and 1990 11,132 status First Nation children were placed in white, middle-class family homes.
The removal of children from their families and placement in white family homes had long term impacts that continue to be felt today. The sixties scoop had a negative impact on personal and community based Indigenous culture, language, and identity. The process of adopting out has lasting impacts on family structures and community relationships and has been associated with a range of mental health and socialization problems. Additionally the negative involvement of social work agencies during the sixties scoop has been described as a continuation of residential school style assimilation and as cultural genocide.
On February 14, 2017 an Ontario judge sided with sixties scoop survivors, finding that the government was liable to thousands of Indigenous people in Ontario who were removed from their families and adopted out as part of the sixties scoop. This ruling, as well as ongoing litigation in other provinces, represents some of the ongoing discussion and advocacy around the sixties scoop.
In 2015 Honouring the Truth, Reconciliation for the Future, the final report summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, noted that “[t]oo many Canadians know little or nothing about the deep historical roots of these conflicts” (p. 8). The summary also highlighted that the over representation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system continues today.
Scholars have noted that the sixties scoop has simply evolved into the millennium scoop. Indigenous children are still over represented in the child welfare system and First Nation children living on reserves receive significantly less child welfare services funding. There are presently more Indigenous children in care then there were during the height of the residential school era.
In 2007 the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada took the case of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous children in care before the Canadian Human Rights Commission. In 2013 a formal tribunal was established to look into this case and on January 26, 2016 the tribunal ruled that the Canadian government was racially discriminating against 163,000 First Nations Children. Despite this ruling government funding models and legislation have been slow to change.
So how as historians and educators can we raise awareness about this chapter of Canada’s history?
- Teach about the sixties scoop alongside residential schools. Understand that residential schools are just one part of a larger colonial system that was designed to assimilate Indigenous people.
- Incorporate discussions of the sixties scoop into child and youth history classes.
- Foster relationships with sixties scoop survivors and invite them into your classroom to talk about their lived experience. Alternatively use video, audio, or written testimony to centre Indigenous voices in your classroom discussion.
- Acknowledge that the legacy of the sixties scoop and colonialism is still being felt in Indigenous communities today.
- Address the millennium scoop and ongoing child welfare and education inequality in the classroom.
Historians and educators are beginning to do a much better job of discussing and addressing residential schools in the classroom. However there is a need to acknowledge that residential schools are just one piece in a much larger history of colonialism in Canada.
Krista McCracken is an Archives Supervisor at Algoma University’s Arthur A. Wishart Library and Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. She is an editor at Active History. Krista lives and works in Robinson-Huron Treaty territory on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe and Métis people.