Survivors share the trauma of the “60’s Scoop”

SSISA President Adam North Peigan outlines the current and future plans of the organization.

Susan Thompson
Express Staff

The Peace River Museum hosted the “Bi-Giwen: Coming Home – Truth Telling from the Sixties Scoop” exhibition for one day only on May 2.

According to the exhibit, “This Anishnaabe that means ‘coming home,’ was given to Survivors at their first gathering in 2013 by Elder Claudette Commanda. She explains what Survivors are doing in their life journeys, they are coming home to their self, their cultures, their families and one another.”

“The Sixties Scoop – the policy and practice in which Indigenous children were taken from their birth families and placed in foster and adoptive care – began in the early 1960s and continued through the 1980s.

These children were often placed in non-Indigenous homes, more often than not, far away from the lands of their birth. Separated from family and culture, often subjected to racism and emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual abuse.

Many survivors have grappled with issues of identity while feeling that they belong in neither the Indigenous nor non-Indigenous worlds.”

The event included lunch, presentations from the “Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta” (SSISA), a video of the apology to Sixties Scoop survivors made by former Premier Rachel Notley in the Legislature, and the shocking personal story of survivor William Descalchuk. It was the first time Descalchuk told his story in public, and with difficulty he detailed the life-threatening abuse he experienced in foster care which caused him to be hospitalized as a young child and has left him with both physical and emotional scars.

The exhibit, presented in partnership with the Legacy of Hope Foundation and the Government of Alberta, the first of its kind, highlights the stories of 12 other survivors and is being toured across Alberta. Students from schools such as Sexsmith attended the Peace River event, as did Deputy Mayor of Peace River Elaine Manzer and Northern Sunrise County Reeve Carolyn Kolebaba.

“The reason that it’s important is mainstream Albertans and Canadians need to step back and really take the opportunity to learn a little bit more about the history of Indigenous people in Canada,” says SSISA President Adam North Peigan. “Everybody talks about the residential schools, but what Canadians need to know is that beyond the residential schools there was something else that happened that affected the Indigenous people, and that’s the sixties scoop.”

Peigan says the reaction to the exhibit has been both positive and emotional.

“We’re overwhelmed with the public coming out, and what we’re finding is some of our non-Native brothers and sisters didn’t even know that this happened. So it’s a real eye-opener for them. I think when we were in Calgary at the Calgary Public Library, we actually had a lot of non-indigenous brothers and sisters go through the exhibit who were not social workers, they didn’t work in corrections, were not in foster homes, were not adoptive parents, were just mainstream people, and they came out of the exhibit and they were crying, and they came out and they said, I’m sorry.”

Peigan says he is impressed with Peace River’s involvement in the exhibit.

“Out of all the sites that we have been to in Alberta thus far, I’m feeling so humbled with the amount of participation and people that have come out in Peace River. It’s just phenomenal. That tells me that Peace River is ready to move reconciliation forward,” he says.

In addition to travelling Alberta with the exhibit, Peigan detailed all ofthe other work SSISA is doing, such as holding twelve survivor engagement sessions, and hosting twelve anti-racism sessions in small town libraries such as in the town of Cardston.

SSISA has also been advocating to government, such as by partnering with Alberta Education to make sure Sixties Scoop resource material is included in the curriculum, and working with Alberta Justice and Alberta Health to address the ongoing legal and physical legacy of the scoop in the Indigenous population.

The organization is determined to work with the new UCP government to make sure progress on those issues continues.

A new documentary on the scoop will also be released in June at a red carpet event, and the first annual Western Canada gathering of survivors will take place this month.

“It’s my hope that when you look at our Indigenous people, we’re just not drunks, we’re just not homeless, we’re just not incarcerated people, we’re a very unique society, and that people understand that we have lived a life of oppression,” Peigan says.

“We have a lived a life of things happening to us that shouldn’t have happened to us, and at the end of the day, we’re still here.”

“We’re a very resilient people and we’re not going anywhere.”

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