The Sixties Scoop saw a mass removal of aboriginal children from their homes between 1961 and the early 1980s. The scoop is often referred to as an extension of the Indian Residential School system. (Record courtesy of Rhonda Chapman)

Words by Cameron Perrier

"In the case of Aboriginal mothers, stories of government involvement in family life often go back generations. The legacy of removing children from their families and communities, first through the residential schools, and then through the child protection system, continues to impact the lives of these mothers, their children and their grandchildren."


- Pivot Legal Society, Broken Promises

The removal of aboriginal children from their homes, families, culture and language is not a new concept in Canadian history.


While many liken the earliest removal of aboriginal children to the Indian Residential Schools (IRS), it goes back much further to Confederation in 1867. At that time, the federal government made the conscious decision to be responsible for the ‘Indian problem’ Canada allegedly faced. Prior to the formal implementation of the IRS in 1923, aboriginal peoples in Canada were forced off their traditional lands in the form of colonial treaties and the Indian Act.


Photo courtesy of Mount Royal University
An "extension of the residential school system" - Peter Choate
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Peter Choate discusses the idea of the Sixties Scoop as an extension of the Indian Residential School System. (Produced by Cameron Perrier)

The term “Sixties Scoop,” was coined by Patrick Johnson in his 1983 report titled Native Children and the Child Welfare System. This period of time, which began around 1961 and lasted until the late 1980s, saw a mass removal of aboriginal children and youth on reserve from their families where they were adopted or placed in the foster care system.


The residential school system at this point was beginning to phase out as the general public began to learn of the horrific and devastating impacts of the assimilation policy.


Peter Choate, associate professor of social work with the Department of Child Studies at Mount Royal University said the justification for such a removal was rooted in a long-held racially biased belief against aboriginal parents.


“It’s a belief that the First Nations or aboriginal person living within the aboriginal culture is a defective person," he said. "It’s a racist belief, it goes back into the 19th century. If you look at Canadian policy historically towards First Nations people, we have historically taken a position that a First Nations person is a lesser person,” he said.

The phasing out of the residential school system also signaled a change in jurisdiction for child welfare in Canada. While the IRS was a federally controlled system, a 1951 amendment to the Indian Act gave the administration of child welfare services to the provinces as Ottawa did not provide such. This transfer of power saw what a University of British Columbia webpage on the sixties scoop calls an “epidemic of aboriginal child apprehension.”

In 1951, 29 aboriginal children were in provincial care in B.C. By 1964, there were 1,466 children in care. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission said in that 1977, aboriginal children made up for 44 per cent of children in care in Alberta.

During the Sixties Scoop, child apprehension meant more than removal from the family and communities. Many children were sent far away from their homes, especially if they originated from remote communities such as the north. In many cases, children were adopted outside of Canada, going to Europe, the United States and, in the case of Rhonda Chapman, Australia.


The unspoken goal of the Sixties Scoop was, like the residential school system, to assimilate the next generation of aboriginal children into greater Canadian society, as it was seen that children be apprehended and placed in non-aboriginal families for their best interests. Social workers at the time were not properly trained to understand the cultural considerations of indigenous people and the role of the family in their society. This lack of consideration is outlined in a 1992 report from the Aboriginal Committee of the Family and Children’s Services Legislation Review Panel, Liberating Our Children:

"The homes in which our children are placed ranged from those of caring, well-intentioned individuals, to places of slave labour and physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The violent effects of the most negative of these homes are tragic for its victims. Even the best of these homes are not healthy places for our children. Anglo-Canadian foster parents are not culturally equipped to create an environment in which a positive Aboriginal self-image can develop. In many cases, our children are taught to demean those things about themselves that are Aboriginal. Meanwhile, they are expected to emulate normal child development by imitating the role model behavior of their Anglo-Canadian foster or adoptive parents. The impossibility of emulating the genetic characteristics of their Caucasian caretakers results in an identity crisis unresolvable in this environment. In many cases this leads to behavioural problems, causing the alternative foster or adoption relationship to break down. The Aboriginal child simply cannot live up to the assimilationist expectations of the non-Aboriginal caretaker.”


Choate said Canadians need to recognize the hard truth about Canada’s relationship with aboriginal people to make progress.


“One of the hidden secrets of this country is we have a long history of racism. The cultural genocide of the First Nations people is clearly one of the most profound stories,” he said, noting the child welfare system is a part of that history.










Peter Choate: "I'm not saying it's perfect" -
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Listen to Peter Choate discuss how the child welfare system today works with aboriginal communities. (Produced by Cameron Perrier)

He added that the 94 recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report and Calls to Action on the residential school system includes a section concerning child welfare. The recommendations urge the government and child welfare agencies to consider culturally appropriate care and for social workers to be properly trained in First Nations history.


“If we really want to make significant progress then we have to start to tackle those kinds of recommendations,” Choate said.

Since the publication of the site, two Manitobans have launched a class action lawsuit against the Canadian government over the effects of the Sixties Scoop as of April 20, 2016. The lawsuit seeks $250 million for punitive damages, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence. The plaintiffs, Priscilla Meeches and Stewart Garnett are both members of the Long Plains First Nation located southwest of Portage la Prairie, Man. 

NEXT: Read, listen and watch the stories of Suzanne Dzus and Rhonda Chapman and their experiences with the Sixties Scoop

READ MORE: Aboriginal child welfare in Alberta today and solutions on the over-representation indigenous children and youth in government care