Over the past few weeks, thousands of people have received $21,000 interim payments from the Sixties Scoop settlement, but for some adoptees, the money is just one step toward a lifetime healing journey.
“It’s still impacting me,” said Gord Bluesky, a Sixties Scoop adoptee.
“And more than anything, it’ll continually be a pain in my heart. It’s not something that can be resolved in a settlement payment. This will always be a piece of me that will never ever be restored.”
The settlement agreement, signed in November 2017, set aside $750 million to compensate First Nations and Inuit children who were removed from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents between 1951 and 1991 and lost their cultural identities as a result.
The total amount each claimant will receive will depend on the total number of claims approved and that has yet to be determined, but $21,000 interim payments were approved by the courts earlier this month.
Bluesky, along with his two sisters, was taken from his community of Brokenhead Ojibway Nation in Manitoba when he was two years old.
As a child, he remembers living in Winnipeg and being bounced from foster home to foster home until 1981, when he was adopted by a family in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, Penn.
“From my perspective, from that point on in the world, we were the only Indians on Earth,” said Bluesky.
He lived in the U.S. until 1995. He said he was welcomed back to Brokenhead Ojibway Nation with open arms, but the effects of his childhood still carry a heavy emotional burden.
“Canada released us into the provincial [child] welfare system and the system ultimately sent me off to be abused, physically, mentally, sexually, right across the board,” said Bluesky.
Since moving back to Manitoba, Bluesky said he has found his community and his spirituality, but said it will still be a lifetime of healing for him and his family.
He said he found out a few weeks ago that his biological father had died. He found out 11 years after it had happened.
“It’s just all these little reminders and I keep saying to myself enough’s enough. You know I’ve been saying that to creator. I’ve had enough in this life where I just want to live peacefully,” said Bluesky.
Survivors want apology from Canada
Bluesky said he loves being on the lake, and plans on buying a fishing boat with his payments. But he said there is still unfinished business that needs to happen for Sixties Scoop survivors, past the settlement money.
“I think that was a step for Canada to say ‘we acknowledge that there was a wrong’ but I still think there’s a whole thing, like why did I have to go to America?”
Fellow Sixties Scoop survivor Elaine Kicknosway would also like to see an apology from the federal government. She said the provincial apologies were “singular” and that a lot of people outside of those provinces were left out.
“Saskatchewan did an apology, that’s great. Manitoba did an apology, that’s great. But we were sent everywhere. It really needs to acknowledge that it’s a national conversation,” said Kicknosway.
Kicknosway was born in 1966 in Saskatchewan and was adopted out through the province’s Adopt Indian and Métis program in 1969.
“I was fostered through four homes but I don’t have a lot of records other than the scars I carry,” said Kicknosway.
At age 10, she moved to Botswana in Africa with her adopted family, where she ended up living for two and a half years.
She is now a trauma counsellor in Ottawa and has helped start a volunteer peer support group known as the Sixties Scoop Network.
“No matter how much money, there’s still so much that was lost,” said Kicknosway.
“And the government needs to do an actual formal apology, and ask for forgiveness ceremonies from us, that we guide.”
She also said she would like the provincial governments to release the names of the foster home service providers, so she can hold people accountable for abuse.
“I want to know names so I can charge people now. I don’t need to carry these scars,” said Kicknosway.
Few supports for adoptees
Kicknosway said she has a small circle that she has relied on for emotional and mental health support over the past few years, and that it consists of people like her husband, her older sister and people in her Sixties Scoop Network.
The settlement included $50 million for a healing foundation, which is in development.
The latest update from the Sixties Scoop Foundation says it held 10 consultation sessions across the country last fall and winter with survivors and it expects to release a report with recommendations for the interim board this summer.
“We also know that everyone wants to see the foundation up and running as quickly as possible, but – as we heard from Survivors across the country – ensuring this foundation has the right leadership and mandate in place, and is built to last, is very important,” the update said.
The foundation will also be looking to recruit members for the permanent board “who will finalize the foundation’s mandate and policies.”
Meanwhile, many adoptees are using social media to connect with, support and keep each other informed.
Katherine Legrange, an adoptee and volunteer director of non-profit group 60’s Scoop Legacy of Canada, said she is frustrated with how healing support has been handled.
“There are no healing supports in place,” she said.
“Some of us have been using the [Indian Residential School] programs, but they’re not designed for Sixties Scoop survivors,” said Legrange.
The settlement’s website is directing adoptees to the federal government’s Hope For Wellness mental health hotline for Indigenous people.
Legrange hosted a 25-person sharing circle in Winnipeg on Wednesday about the settlement and “what that has brought up for people.”
For First Nations adoptees in need of community support, Legrange recommends reaching out to local elders or connecting with mental health professionals.