- Colonial Violence in Sixties Scoop NarrativesFrom In Search of April Raintree to A Matter of Conscience
"Adopted" in the parlance of the day, meant "no longer Indian." Thousands of us were denied the fundamental right to know who we were created to be.Richard Wagamese, "Surviving the Scoop"
Indigenous literatures matter because Indigenous peoples matter. And that, to me, is a mighty good cause for celebration.Daniel Heath Justice, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter
Inspired by personal experience, Métis author Beatrice Mosionier's novel In Search of April Raintree (1983) was one of the first texts written in Canada to deal with the Indigenous foster child experience. According to the late Métis scholar Jo-Ann Episkenew, In Search of April Raintree publicly acknowledges and validates the experiences of "the many Indigenous children in the care of the settler government's child-welfare system." She adds that "even though she [Mosionier] could have written an autobiographical account of her own experiences as a foster child, Culleton Mosionier made a deliberate choice to write the story of a fictional family, the Raintrees, who, like her own family, were torn apart by Canadian government policies" (Episkenew 112).1 The novel introduces major human rights issues that subsequent narratives echo: the violent removal of Indigenous children from their parents by the Canadian government to assimilate them by placing them in white middle-class homes, the resulting identity conflicts from which many foster care and transracial adoption survivors suff er, sexual assault on Indigenous women, suicide, and intergenerational trauma as a result of the residential school experience.2 All of these issues arise out of [End Page 115] systemic and institutional colonial violence, as April Raintree and the Sixties Scoop narratives that I will discuss in this essay show.
Both the Sixties Scoop, which began in 1951, when amendments to the Indian Act gave the provinces jurisdiction over Indigenous child welfare where none existed federally, and continued through the 1980s, and the so-called Millennium Scoop are part of the history of the child-welfare system in Canada, which continues to tragically fail Indigenous peoples. These terms reflect the violence of the removal of Indigenous children without their parents' consent and often without their knowledge.3 The history of the large-scale governmental foster and adoption strategies of the Sixties Scoop, which saw the largest number of children taken in the 1960s and continued until the mid-1980s, has not yet received the same critical attention as the discussion of residential schools, which have entered the Canadian public consciousness more widely in response to the 2015 Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Unfortunately, despite the changes that have been made as a result of the condemning reports on the government's welfare initiatives and systemic underfunding, the number of children in permanent care outside of their own families and communities has continued to rise in the new millennium—hence the term "Millennium Scoop."4 Cora Morgan, Manitoba's First Nations family advocate, for example, points to a case "where a three-day-old boy was taken from his mother simply because the mother had been a ward of Family Services until she was 18" (Vowel 185). Moreover, a number of provinces have been housing teenaged Indigenous foster children in motels and hotels when no other accommodation seems to have been available. This practice has come under scrutiny after the brutal murder in 2014 of fifteen-year-old Tina Fontaine (Anishinaabe), who was one of the many victims of such placement (185).
According to Patrick Johnston, several factors have contributed to the recent resurgence of interest in the Sixties Scoop: the fact that the TRC has characterized it as a legacy of the residential school system; the formal apology by former premier Greg Selinger in the Manitoba legislature in 2015; the tireless efforts of Cindy Blackstock (Gitxsan), executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society; increased activism by those affected; and a series of class-action lawsuits launched in five different provinces. On 28 May 2018 Premier Rachel Notley formally apologized on behalf of the province of Alberta to [End Page 116] Sixties...