WINNIPEG — Manitoba has become the first province to formally apologize to aboriginal adoptees for taking them from their homes and placing them with non-native families.
Premier Greg Selinger delivered the apology in the provincial legislature following a ceremony for those who were caught up in the ’60s Scoop.
“Today, as premier, I would like to apologize on behalf of the province of Manitoba for the ’60s Scoop — the practice of removing First Nations, Metis and Inuit children from their families and placing them for adoption in non-indigenous homes, sometimes far from their home community, and for the losses of culture and identity to the children and their families and communities,” Selinger said.
Thousands of aboriginal children across Canada were taken by child-welfare agents starting in the 1960s and placed with non-aboriginal families.
Selinger acknowledged that the practice stripped those children of their language, culture and traditions, and had a similar impact to that of residential schools.
He said the harm caused continues to this day and he promised to raise the ’60s Scoop at the next roundtable on missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Selinger also said the subject will be included in Manitoba’s school curriculum.
Some adoptees, saying an apology is not enough, want formal recognition and a commission similar to the one for Indian residential school survivors.
Class-action lawsuits have been filed in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan and aboriginal leaders have said they hope the Manitoba apology is accompanied by action.
Grand Chief David Harper, who represents northern Manitoba First Nations, said the province has to do more to reunite families and counsel victims.
Marlene Orgeron was seized from her Manitoba reserve when she was three. Social workers told her uncle he would be arrested if he tried to stop them.
She was taken to New Orleans where she was abused mentally and physically by a white family.
At the honouring ceremony before the apology, Orgeron said she grew up wanting to die, wanting the pain to end.
Being taken from her family robbed her of her identity.
“I spent the last 20 years putting myself back together,” she recalled, crying before a gathering of other adoptees, supporters and media.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, who is aboriginal, told the gathering that adoptees were subjected to medical exams and treated “like we were pets.”
“This is only the first step toward total reconciliation.”
Coleen Rajotte, who was taken from her Cree family in Saskatchewan and raised in Winnipeg, said the apology is the beginning of an important conversation.
“This is an historic day,” she said. “There is a lot left to be done.”