Two survivors of the '60s Scoop with a strong connection to Prince Albert, shared their thoughts on the formal apology by the government this week.
Premier Scott Moe issued the apology Monday regarding the government’s role in the forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes over a plus-two decade period from the 1960s through the 1980s. An estimated 20,000 children across Canada were placed in the foster care of non-Indigenous homes.
“We failed the survivors we heard from in the sharing circles, and so many others. We failed their families. We failed their communities. We failed,” Moe told the crowd gathered in the rotunda of the legislature.
“On behalf of the Government of Saskatchewan, on behalf of the people of Saskatchewan, I stand before you today to apologize; to say sorry,” he said.
That apology was accepted by Eileen Rheindel who spent eight years in a foster home in Prince Albert with her five siblings.
“I could see the look on his (Moe’s) face and it was pretty powerful for me,” she told paNOW. ”As soon as he said ‘sorry’ there was something in my heart that was so true and genuine I felt the healing, but it’s a process.”
Rheindel was taken from her family in Prince Albert at the age of two and was 10 years old when she and her siblings were taken from foster care to be adopted in the United States. However, that arrangement fell through so the children were once again put in foster care. She said as a young girl she had no idea about her true identity.
“I didn’t know I was a foster child, I didn’t know I was native, I didn’t know anything,” she said. “As a 10-year-old everything had been taken from me,” she said
She became emotional when asked about how she relates to her own three children who are now in their twenties.
“Because I feel like I had my family stolen from me, family is so important to me,” she said, reflecting.
Rheindel, who now lives in Estevan, ran a child care facility for 17 years before retiring. Her brother is Robert Doucette, the co-chair of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Saskatchewan,
Apology brings relief for some
Interestingly another ‘60s Scoop survivor also had a career working in child care.
Leona Cook, who has lived in Prince Albert for the last 16 years, was one of seven children – two sisters and five brothers — taken from their family in Cumberland House. They were moved into foster care in southern Saskatchewan. She was in kindergarten when the removal happened.
“I’m glad the apology was made for all the Indigenous peoples,” she told paNOW. “It brings a lot of relief for a lot of us, it helps our healing, helps us forgive one another and helps in being able to move forward and go on living.”
Cook said for her the most powerful apology came long before the premier’s. Over 20 years ago, a white social worker who became her friend told her how sorry she was about the way Indigenous children were treated.
“She said the words I needed to hear so I could release my own self and let go of the hurt and the pain,” she said.
Cook said life has been difficult for some of her siblings.
“One committed suicide. A couple of them are working and the other ones have a hard time staying in a job. My sister, she’s working; she’s doing well,” Cook said.
At the event in Regina Monday there was a call for the apology to prompt further action on the issue of the number of Indigenous children in the foster care system. It is something many involved in the '60s Scoop feel the province needs to address, according to Robert Doucette.
“We need to sit down with the communities and the families and engage with them, actually ask them ‘How do we deal with these issues?'” Doucette said.
Call for more education about the past
Gordon Keewatin is an Elder who works as a cultural support worker with the Residential School Program which is overseen by the Prince Albert Grand Council health department.
He said he was pleased with the apology by Moe and the reaction he saw so far. He added it appeared the premier’s words were heartfelt and genuine.
“I think the recognition happening from heads of government shows they are interested in getting to know how survivors feel and how they were dealt with throughout the years,” he told paNOW. “Finally someone is coming in to bat for them and are making an apology.”
Keewatin stressed that as a survivor of the residential school system he couldn’t put himself directly in the shoes of ‘60s Scoop survivors but agreed with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s findings in 2015 of the “cultural genocide” of Indigenous peoples.
“The impacts including loss of culture, language and healthy identity [for scoop survivors] were very similar to what residential school survivors face,” he said.
Asked if the apology could be a springboard for further education among all Canadians about this dark chapter in history he said it was important for Indigenous people to understand it better, especially as there were fewer survivors who had made it back to their home roots. He said following more traditional practices was important.
Editor's note: this article was amended Jan.12 to make clear the adoption attempts in the U.S. fell through.
With files from CJME
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