The term Sixties Scoop, refers to the Canadian practice, beginning in the 1960s and continuing until the late 1980s, of taking ("scooping up") children of Aboriginal peoples in Canada from their families for placing in foster homes or adoption. The children were typically sent to Canada's Indian residential schools, though a few were placed in the United States or western Europe. The term "Sixties scoop" was coined by Patrick Johnston in his 1983 report Native Children and the Child Welfare System. It is a variation of the broader term Baby Scoop Era to refer to the period from the late 1950s to 1980s when large numbers of children were taken from their parents for adoption.
An estimated 20,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families and fostered or adopted out to primarily white middle-class families, some within Canada and some in the US or Western Europe.
This government policy was discontinued in the mid-1980s, after Ontario chiefs passed resolutions against it and a Manitoba judicial inquiry harshly condemned it. This judicial inquiry was headed by Justice Edwin Kimelman, who published the File Review Report. Report of the Review Committee on Indian and Métis Adoptions and Placements (also known as the Kimelman Report).
The residential school system was implemented by the Canadian government and was administered by various churches. The purpose was to educate aboriginal children to Euro-Canadian and Christian values so they could become part of mainstream society. The school system was in effect from 1880s and until the late 20th century. This system forced children to be removed from their families and homes for long and extended period of times. The policy of the schools forbade the children to speak their own languages or to acknowledge their culture in any way. Survivors of the residential schools have come forward and spoken out about physical, spiritual, sexual and psychological abuse they experienced from the staff of these schools. The lasting cultural impact has been widespread and extensive:
Residential schools systematically undermined Aboriginal culture across Canada and disrupted families for generations, severing the ties through which Aboriginal culture is taught and sustained, and contributing to a general loss of language and culture. Because they were removed from their families, many students grew up without experiencing a nurturing family life and without the knowledge and skills to raise their own families. The devastating effects of the residential schools are far-reaching and continue to have significant impact on Aboriginal communities. Because the government's and the churches’ intent was to eradicate all aspects of Aboriginal culture in these young people and interrupt its transmission from one generation to the next, the residential school system is commonly considered a form of cultural genocide.
The Canadian government started to close the compulsory residential school system in the 1950s and 60s but it was the opinion of the government authorities at that time that Aboriginal children would benefit from a better education from the public school system.
This transition to provincial services led to a 1951 Indian Act amendment that enabled the Province to provide services to Aboriginal people where none existed federally. Child protection was one of these areas. In 1951, twenty-nine Aboriginal children were in provincial care in British Columbia; by 1964, that number was 1,466. Aboriginal children, who had comprised only 1 percent of all children in care, came to make up just over 34 percent.
Johnston, while researching his report, collected statistical data from various stake holders within the community, including levels of government, aboriginal organizations and band council. Johnston was given the term "Sixties Scoop" by a social worker from British Columbia where she disclosed "with tears in her eyes – that it was common practice in BC in the mid-sixties to 'scoop' from their mothers on reserves almost all newly born children. She was crying because she realized – 20 years later – what a mistake that had been".
The Kimelman Report, released in 1985, made the following observation about child welfare policies in that province:
The native people of Manitoba had charged that the interpretation of the term “best interest of the child” had been wrought with cultural bias in a system dominated by white, middle class workers, boards of directors, administrators, lawyers and judges. They also alleged that in application of the legislation, there were many factors which were crucially important to the native people which had been ignored, misinterpreted, or simply not recognized by the child welfare system.
In 1983 researcher Patrick Johnston stated that Aboriginal children disproportunately likely to be taken into the child welfare system. In Alberta 40–50% of children in care were Aboriginal; 60–70% in Saskatchewan; and 50–60% in Manitoba. According to the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission, "Johnston estimated that, across Canada, Aboriginal children were 4.5 times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be in the care of child welfare authorities. Similar findings have been reported by other experts.
Raven Sinclair, an Associate Professor at the University of Regina and a member of Gordon First Nation. She wrote an article called Identity lost and found: Lessons from The Sixties Scoop. In this article she discusses the broadened context of the term sixties scoop:
At the same time as we may be alarmed by the statistics, it is important to recognize that the Sixties Scoop was not a speciﬁc child welfare program or policy. It names one segment of a larger period in Aboriginal child welfare history where, because questionable apprehensions and adoptions ﬁgured prominently, a label was applied. The “Sixties Scoop” has evolved as a descriptor that is now applied to the whole of the Aboriginal child welfare era, simplistically deﬁned here as roughly the time from the waning of residential schools to the mid-1980s period of child welfare devolution and last closings of Indian residential schools....The white social worker, following on the heels of the missionary, the priest and the Indian agent, was convinced that the only hope for the salvation of the Indian people lay in the removal of their children.
The "Kimelman Report", titled No Quiet Place, was a strong critique or review of both the existing Child Welfare System in Manitoba and the practices of the social workers and agencies that were working within it.
Rather, it is believed that every level of personnel in the child welfare system has been so free of examination for so long that the least attention was viewed as negative criticism. Staff seemed unable to recognize that public examination of the system was long overdue. .
The final report has 109 recommendations that range from cultural sensitivity, maintenance of family ties, formal training for professionals, structure of the system itself and having records being accessible on the computer. Kimelman went on to refer to the loss of the children as a “cultural genocide.” .
Deane Reder (2007) reports that the adult adoptees who were the subjects of this program have eloquently spoken out about their losses: loss of their cultural identity, lost contact with their natural families, barred access from medical histories, and for status Indian children the loss of their status.
The after effects of the Sixties Scoop remain an issue in child welfare provision for Aboriginal communities in Canada. Scholar Chris Walmsley notes in Protecting Aboriginal Children (2011) that some social workers find themselves in a similar alienated relationship to communities. Walmsley referred to one heavily publicised incident in which 71 children were removed from a community in 1998 (though not all were Aboriginal). One Aboriginal childcare worker said "to me it was very shocking ...it reminded me of the sixties scoop when kids on-reserve were taken without even their parents being aware of them [being] taken". Walmsley comments that,
the condition of victimisation is recreated for the community every time a social worker parachutes into a community, makes a brief assessment, and then leaves with all the children at risk. This form of practice often reactivates the sixties scoop in the minds of the community.
Walmsley notes, though, that there is a reverse problem, which is that Aboriginal children in care are now often "off-loaded" onto Aboriginal communities that do not have the resources to deal with them, a process that can exacerbate problems in fragile communities by introducing troubled children with no meaningful ties beyond ethnicity.
Richard Cardinal was a Métis child born in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. He entered the foster care system when he was four years old. While in the care of Alberta Child Welfare he had a total of 28 group care and foster placements, secured facilities and shelters. At age 17, Richard hanged himself on June 26, 1984. There is a film that was made about his story; Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child based on his personal diary and interviews with his brother Charlie and his foster parents.
Sydney Dion is an aboriginal man from Manitoba who was adopted to the United States in 1971. The CBC 8th Fire features his story about coming back to Canada. Dion saved his money so he could find his family in Canada. When he arrived at the border, he was turned down: "they are aware that I was born here, but I am not a citizen here". He did not have a Canadian birth certificate and his name had been changed. Therefore he had no proof that he is a Canadian citizen. On his second try to get into Canada he was allowed back, as the border guard acknowledged that he was a minor when he was adopted and did not implicitly consent to becoming a United States resident, so he was allowed back to Canada without a passport.
In 2011, Taber Gregory, baptized Henry Desjarlais, an aboriginal man from Cold Lake Nation, Alberta, Canada became the first victim of Canada Scoops placed in the US to be recognized by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Canada.
In January 2015, via civil class action suit served on Federal Government of Canada, Wayne Snellgrove, became the first victim of Canada Scoops placed in the US to be recognized by Canada Courts. (Munatones, Steve.Wayne. Snellgrove Continues To Negative Split. The Daily News of Open Water, September 23, 2014). (Smith, Kim. Merchant Law Firm Says Manitoba Apology A Step To Compensation For 60's Scoop Adoptees, June 12, 2015).
An event similar to the Sixties Scoop happened in Australia where Aboriginal children, sometimes referred to as the Stolen Generation, were removed from their families and placed into internment camps, orphanages and other institutions. A similar term, Baby Scoop Era refers to the period in United States history starting after the end of World War II and ending in 1972, characterized by an increased rate of pre-marital pregnancies over the preceding period, along with a higher rate of forced adoption.
- Lyons, T. (2000)
- J.S. Gregory, Susan Farley, & Darlene Auger, 2012. "Stolen Nation," in Eye Weekly, January 13, 2000. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.
- Native Children and the Child Welfare System. Canadian Council on Social Development. Ottawa, 1983
- CBC Radio (March 12, 1983) "Stolen generations" Program: Our Native Land. Broadcast Date: March 12, 1983.
- Philp, Margaret (2002). "The Land of Lost Children", The Globe and Mail, Saturday, December 21, 2002,
- Crey, Ernie, & Fournier, Suzanne (1998). Stolen From Our Embrace. The Abduction of First Nations Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities. D&M Publishers Inc. ISBN 978-1-55054-661-3 Winner of the BC Book Prize Hubert-Evans Prize for Non-Fiction
- Lyons, T. (2000). "Stolen Nation," in Eye Weekly, January 13, 2000. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.
- "No Quiet Place" Community Services, Winnipeg, 1985.
- Chiefs of Ontario - UPDATE Preparation for Special Chiefs Assembly. 60s Scoop Litigation.
- "Former CAS wards seek billions in lawsuit" Wawatay News, July 22, 2010, Volume 37, No. 15.
- Fournier, Suzanne (2011). "B.C. natives sue federal government for millions over 'Sixties' Scoop'." The Vancouver Sun, May 31, 2011. Postmedia News.
- "Aboriginal Sixties Scoop Class Action". Klein Lyons.
- Hanson, Erin. "The Residential School System". University of British Columbia. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
- Hanson, Erin. "Sixties Scoop". University of British Columbia. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
- Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission, Child Weklfare, Chapter 14
- Sinclair, Raven, "Identity Lost and Found: Lessons from The Sixties Scoop", First Peoples Child and Family Review, 2007, p. 66
- Reder, Deanna. (2007). Indian re ACT(ions). For Every ACTion - There's a Reaction. First Nations Studies Learning Object Model. University of British Columbia
- Chris Walmsley, Protecting Aboriginal Children, UBC Press, 2011, pp.57ff.
- Obomsawin, Alanis (1986). "Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Metis Child". National Film Board. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
- "Hidden Colonial Legacy: 60's Scoop". CBC 8th fire. 2011. Retrieved 4 April 2014.
- The Baby Scoop Era Research Initiative
- Fessler, A. (2006). The Girls Who Went Away; The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 1-59420-094-7