The Sixties Scoop Healing Foundation announced its inaugural board of directors Thursday, marking a milestone in the creation of the foundation to aid and advocate on behalf of thousands of Indigenous people who were removed from their families and communities as children.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Conrad Prince, director of engagement at the foundation.
“The foundation legally has been around for about a year but operationally, the announcement of the new board signals to the world and specifically the Sixties Scoop community that the foundation will become operational. So it’s a good feeling.”
The 10 permanent board of directors will be presented Thursday in an online event. They are Cheryl Swidrovich, Danelle St. Laurent, Eric Phillips, Gary McDermott, Halie Bruce, Selina Legge, Wayne Garnons-Williams, Vicky Boldo, Anna Watts, and Justice Harry LaForme. Nine are survivors of the Sixties Scoop.
Garnons-William, a senior lawyer and principal director of an Ottawa-based law firm, is Plains Cree from Moosomin First Nation in Saskatchewan. He was able to reconnect with his birth family over the years, and hopes the foundation can help do that for other survivors.
“Being able to provide that opportunity for children who were stolen, that’s important and I want to be a part of [it],” said Garnons-William.
“It’s a foundation for survivors, made up of survivors. We’re all here for one purpose — to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. We get aid to survivors who need it, and to ensure that, we can do a series of programs with mental health, cultural reclamation, reunification, advocacy and education to ensure that those messages get out there so that survivors have a means of healing.”
Between the 1950s and early 1990s, over 22,500 Indigenous children in Canada were apprehended by child welfare agencies and placed with non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents and lost their cultural identities as a result.
Canada’s $875 million class action settlement agreement with survivors set aside $750 million to compensate status First Nations and Inuit children and $50 million for the establishment of a foundation.
An interim board was selected in December 2018 to lay the groundwork for its creation by embarking on a national engagement session.
Maya Cousineau Mollen, an Innu poet and Sixties Scoop survivor raised by a Quebec family in the Côte-Nord region of Quebec, said she is happy about the announcement and that work on the foundation is continuing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
She participated in the engagement process, advocating for the needs of French-speaking adoptees.
“We didn’t choose the language that we were colonized. For some of us, it was French. But, it’s always a battle to be respected,” said Cousineau Mollen.
“I hope the foundation will give us the opportunity to get together and share our experiences, tips to survive and find good ways to bring together both our identities.”
The feedback gathered from the engagement process was presented in a report that was released in August, with seven core recommendations that focus on exploring avenues for healing and reconciliation in the areas of cultural reclamation, mental health, reunification, advocacy, education, commemoration, and community building.
“It’s [what] survivors said that they wanted and needed,” said Prince.
“The entire purpose of the national engagement process was to gather those voices of survivors.”
One of the first concrete actions that stemmed from the report was to recruit a permanent board, said Prince.
“[We] immediately went into actioning the three recommendations of the board recruitment process based upon the qualities, characteristics and background experiences that they wanted.”
Raven Sinclair, an executive advisor to the interim board who also oversaw the national engagement process, said the instalment of the board is exciting, but also said she feels empathy for its new members.
“I think that they know the amount of work that is ahead,” she said.
The board will be responsible for structuring the foundation, developing policies and procedures, hiring staff, and getting the ball rolling on aid and programs to survivors.
One of the recommendations in the report is ensuring long-term sustainability of the foundation.
“They’re going to need to focus on finding the funds to make to make this organization last in the future and accomplish some of the things that they want to accomplish,” said Sinclair.