A Sixties Scoop rally in Ontario, Canada. Photo: Crystal Luxmore

Doug George-Kanentiio: Sixties Scoop 'settlement' victimizes Natives all over again

Sixties Scoop "Settlement" a Rotten Deal for Natives

A Massive Pay Day for Lawyers
By Doug George-Kanentiio (Akwesasne Mohawk)

Canadian taxpayers are once again being royally hosed in the proposed Sixties Scoop "settlement" which once again exploits Natives and enriches the lawyers.

I am one of those Natives who, as a child, was taken from my home community on the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory and placed in a series of foster homes, 15 in total over a five year period. I was shuffled from "homes" in Quebec and Ontario, staying for as long as a few months to a mere four days in one instance.

I had been forced to attend the notorious Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario over 500 km from my home. It was one of the worse of the residential schools where physical and sexual violence were every day events. I was, along with the Akwesasne Mohawk contingent, expelled (much to our satisfaction) in June of 1968 and expected to return home but the bus carrying us from the train station in Cornwall was intercepted by social workers who took my brothers and I to what was to become a series of residences away from our family and friends.

My surviving parent, my father, had no say in the matter as it was the practise then to remove children based upon a decision made by the Indian Agent, the local priest, a nurse in the reserve's clinic and an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Opposition to these formidable agents of the federal government was impossible as my father would have been jailed and his children taken to reform schools which actually happened to two of my brothers.

The only thing we could do was to adopt a strategy of non-compliance, of remaining silent in those homes, communicating nothing, and when the opportunity arose to run away back to Akwesasne. We came to realize that the goal of the agents was to alienate us from our community and to strip us of any semblance of pride or knowledge with regards to our aboriginal heritage.

As boys my brothers and I were able to use our fists to deter the worse instances of abuse but not so the many Mohawk girls, left at the mercy of abusers who were completely unmonitored as to their actions, Not once in the many years I was in the system did any person in a position of authority ask me what I felt, how I was treated or what I wanted.

Such was my experience which was supposed to be a part of the Sixties Scoop compensation initiative.

The 'official explanation: Sixties Scoop Settlement

At a meeting at Akwesasne in April, 2017 dozens of Mohawks met with an attorney from the Wilson Christen law firm in Toronto. We were told that litigation against Canada was then in its eight year but that an Ontario judge had ruled in favor of the Native victims awarding $1. 3 billion in damages and compensation.

We were told there were an estimated 16,000 possible claimants and that we would receive a minimal payment of $80,000 with more depending upon the levels of abuse which included physical acts of violence and the loss of culture. We were assured by Wilson Christen that we would be kept informed as to negotiations and consulted prior to any settlement. We filled out a form in which we agreed to be included in the Sixties Scoop pool but never signed any contract to formally retain Wilson Christen.

We asked specific questions to the attorney and received vague answers which should have set off alarms. We wanted to know the number of claimants but were told the lawyers did not know other than a very rough guess. We asked what formula they were using to determine compensation; they had none. We asked about our records which would support our claims and were informed there were no records.

We wanted to know how many Mohawks specifically were taken from Akwesasne but were given a "perhaps" as many as 100 per year over a 20 year period. We wanted to know how to reach out to those lost children and bring them back to their families but nothing was in place to do so.

How could, we asked, over 2,000 Mohawks vanish? Was there anything within their proposals to identify them? No, there was not. We said we would work with WIlson Christen to create a plan to bring them home but this was not accepted. Over the next six months, despite many attempts, Wilson Christen refused to communicate with us.

We were therefore shocked to learn that on October 6, 2017, the firm announced it had reached a preliminary settlement with the federal government without our knowledge or consent in which the February award was reduced to $800 million and that this amount would be divided among thousands of claimants, far beyond the original group, thereby drastically reducing individual payments to as low as $25,000 and most likely less than that since the core amount would now be spread across Canada.

The law firm announced to the media, and not us directly, that they had somehow surrendered $500 million because they did not want to risk a defeat in court which was very odd given that Aboriginal Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett had stated Canada would not appeal the Ontario decision.

We also learned that there were four non-Native law firms ready to divide $75 million and one of those was Merchant in Saskatchewan, the same lawyers who had been accused of fraud and excessive billing in the residential school case when that agency made a claim of $80 million.

The anger, bitterness and deep resentment towards these cultural vultures lingers on especially when the Sixties Scoop claimants learned that Wilson Christen stands to make over $18 million for the 13,000 hours it claims to have spent on the case, or an amount of $1,442 per hour. We never saw an itemized list and it is impossible for us to agree to this given the failure of that firm to answer our questions or to provide us with adequate counsel.

Once again, we are victims exploited by a system which is designed to deny us not only fair compensation but that chance to have our voices heard and our experiences validated.

This is why the Mohawks of Akwesasne reject the October agreement and repudiate any action taken by any lawyer claiming to represent us. We shall inform the Prime Minister directly and insist that he or his representative meet with our Mohawk leadership in order to find a mutually acceptable resolution nation to nation as it should be.

Doug George-Kanentiio, Akwesasne Mohawk, is the vice-president of the Hiawatha Institute for Indigenous Knowledge. He has served as a Trustee for the National Museum of the American Indian, is a former land claims negotiator for the Mohawk Nation and is the author of numerous books and articles about the Mohawk people. He may be reached via e-mail at: Kanentiio@aol.com or by calling 315-415-7288.

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