A young drummer at a Sixties Scoop rally in Toronto, Ontario. Photo: Crystal Luxmore
Canada | Opinion

Doug George-Kanentiio: Sixties Scoop survivors weren't consulted on settlement





Nothing For Us Without Us

Sixties Scoop Generation Once Again Victimized
By Doug George-Kanentiio

In April of this past year a group of Akwesasne Mohawks who were of the Sixties Scoop generation in Canada had our one and only meeting with an attorney representing the lead plaintiff in the litigation against Canada for forcibly removing us from our homes and, without the consent of our families or councils, placed in non-Native foster homes.

We were informed that upwards of 100 Mohawk children from Akwesasne were taken each year from the community over a 20 year period (1966-1986) but that the specific number was unknown since the federal and provincial governments either destroyed or misplaced our records. We were told that the Canadian federal government did not contest a $1.3 billion dollar judgment and that we could expect a minimum damage payment of $88,000 with additional compensation depending upon the years we were in the foster care system and the attendant harm caused by these displacements.

We were told we would be consulted before any settlement was reached.

We were, once again, misled.

It was supposed to be "nothing for us without us" yet on October 6 in Ottawa a single person was able to persuade that law firm to agree to terms with Canada in which $500,000,000 was stripped off the original amount and our individual compensation reduced by over two thirds while the law firm stands to gain millions. We were never involved in these negotiations. We never agreed to concede to the enormous financial surrender, we were not consulted, advised or contacted in any many about a pending 'healing center" or any other proposed programs which can only further accentuate our losses. We were never asked to give testimony or to seek reconciliation based upon the necessity of confronting those who took us from our homes and the adults who willfully stripped us of our heritage and thereby debasing the lives of hundreds of innocent children.

Lead plaintiff Marcia Brown Martel discusses settlement in Sixties Scoop Litigation: Canada Stepped into the Light

I went through both the residential school system and foster care. I was held to be a ward of the federal government which responded to my desire to return to my home by deciding I was a problem child and then placing me in 15 different "homes" in a five year period in Quebec and Ontario. My siblings (of which there are 12) were also scattered to the winds, some winding up in cities like Ottawa and Toronto and others in small communities in eastern Ontario.

Since the first ones were taken in the winter of 1966 we have yet to gather as a family with the exception of the death of my father in 1994. He died carrying the burden of defeat, that he had failed to hold us together against the designs of an external social service system which had no interest in preserving our identities as Mohawks. It was this same federal government whose agents failed to have the decency to do background checks on the "homes" we were placed in or at any time investigate the often hostile treatment we received in those places.

We were left to our own devices and all too often that meant rebelling in whatever way we could whether as runaways, thieves, delinquents, liars, abusers.

We grew mean and became a source of many social problems within those "homes" and subsequently in our adult lives in whatever place we stumbled into.

Because of us Akwesasne has carried a heavy burden due to our high rates of substance abuse and criminal behaviour but nothing on the local level has been done to address our feelings of abandonment or of the self abuse which has marked our lives along with the pain we have inflicted on those who we have tried to love or tried to love us.

Now this latest assault.

How can these people, who may have goodness in some places of their hearts, enter into terms involving enormous concessions and without any approval on our part? Would it have been right to seek us out and solicit our ideas? To ask us what we wanted? To extend us the courtesy of requesting the Mohawks to come up with creative ways to heal this decades long anguish?

We never agreed to this. We never conceded to allowing one person to make this decision supposedly on our behalf. We never approved of this settlement which will now come to bind us all. We want to compel the federal and provincial governments to help us find our lost children and to give them the option of coming home. We want support for programs in which those lost can become reconciled with their families and community. Yet there are no provisions in the settlement for this most vital of acts.

Now we are once again victims. If we oppose the settlement no lawyer will represent us. The case will be considered closed, resolved and we will be expected to take the pittance guilt money and be silent. We will have condemned hundreds of Mohawk children to remain in obscurity and lost to their families forever.

What kind of resolution is this?

Nothing for us without us? I cannot see how anyone involved in this fiasco considers it a victory or how they can rest at night with the salting of now gaping wounds which should been healed long ago.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the former editor of the journal Akwesasne Notes and is a founding member of the Native American Journalists Association. He is the author of "Iroquois on Fire" among other books and articles. He may be reached via e-mail: kanentiio@aol.com or by calling 315-415-7288. His address is: Doug George-Kanentiio, 2 Elm Court, Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, Akwesasne, Ontario K6H 5R7.