The Journey Continues for 16,000 Aboriginal Children – Sixties Scoop
On August 23, 2016 hundreds of supporters and plaintiff attended the 60's Scoop Rally Class Action Lawsuit in Toronto. I also attended with my biological sister who was adopted out to a non-Aboriginal family in 1972.
In 2009 a lawsuit was issued against the Attorney General of Canada, on behalf of Chief Marcia Brown Martel of Beaverhouse First Nation. The claim alleges the federal government – with constitutional responsibility, principally through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada – committed “cultural genocide” by delegating child welfare services to Ontario. This occurred between 1965 to 1984, where over 16,000 children were removed from their homes.
My own personal journey on this matter begins with my first memory of learning I had other sisters that were not living with us at the time. We lived in regent park when I was around 5-6. My mother is Ojibway from Northern Ontario and at the time she was living in Toronto. I would ask her about their names how old they were, or how old would they be now? I was always curious, trying to feel closer if I knew more. Of course my mother didn’t always want to talk and I would hear frustration or maybe anger out of sadness of being reminded that she had daughters out there. When asked how many siblings I had, I would say one brother and six sisters, always including them.
When I think back, when I heard about this I was struck by how odd it was to have sister that did not live with us. I felt a little sadness as I am the youngest of my family. I had one brother and three sisters and they all took care of me. The three sisters that were adopted out were twin sisters in 1970 and another one in 1972. I was born a year later.
As I got older and had my own children I wanted to try and find my sisters. I submitted my mother’s name to an adoption registry back in 94/95. My mother was living with me then in Thunder Bay. When she saw the mail from the adoption registry and asked me who I was looking for I got scared because I hadn’t told her and said, “nobody” and she left it at that.
A few years later my mother was in Toronto visiting my siblings and she phoned me to tell me she submitted her name to the Catholic Children Aids Society in Toronto; she actually went in to speak with someone. I was so happy to hear she did that and that’s something I thought she would ever do. Once she submitted her name there was a hit; meaning the girls had put their name in if anyone was looking for them as well. She was connected to a caseworker who shared their file: they were adopted at six months old. Their features of dark hair and big dark eyes were clearly of native heritage. Through the case worker numbers were exchanged and we made phone calls back in late 90’s. This was a huge step to answering a lot of unanswered question to who “the girls” were.
The first meeting was with my siblings who lived in Toronto. It was good; pictures were taken, and questions were answered. I didn’t meet her until 2003. I was preparing myself to break down and cry in her arms and say I missed her. But that wasn’t the case. We were two strangers meeting each other but who still felt close because we had similar features and similar personality traits. We remained in contact but it wasn’t until 2010 that she was ready to meet our mother. Over the years me and my biological sister became closer, which made the day when they reconnected very emotional. To see my mother break down was touching because it was like a full circle and very healing. It is rare to see my mother cry, being a strong Anishnawbe woman she learned to hold in her emotions. It was a great first visit and since then there’s been others.
So after years of separation and not knowing, we have been slowly getting to know each other. I have yet to meet the twins but my mother was down to meet them and also the adoptive parents of the twins. Its good to know that they were raised in a good home here in Toronto and the twins in Manitoba. But after speaking with them, it was identity, culture, connection to your family and were you come from that were all lost. The girls always new they were adopted it was never hidden from them. But both my parents were very loving to me the best way they knew how. I know you cant change things all we can do is continue to build on our relationship together in moving forward.
Every story is different but the effects are the same. A loss of culture and the implementation of a policy that wasn’t in the best interest of the child. Dec 2, 2016 will be court date for the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit. Again I will be there in support of the 16,000 children being removed from their home and growing up asking who they are and what is their culture. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the residential school experience and the Sixties Scoop have affected parenting skills and the success of many Aboriginal families to this day. Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett responded by stating that she would like to see this settle out of court. After many years of constant battle and the strength and perseverance from the many supporters and families that this will come to a amicable resolution.
Ontario Trillium Foundation Invests in TASSC and Toronto’s Urban Aboriginal Community
The Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is in the business of investing in projects that have measurable community impact. This is one reason why OTF has selected a TASSC project to invest in over the next three years.
OTF uses the Canadian Index of Wellbeing to measure their impact on community. Wellness is looked at using the following categories: Health, Living Standards, Community Vitality, Environment, Leisure and Culture, Education, Time Use, and Democratic Engagement.
OTF also commissioned the report, How are Ontarians Really Doing? in 2014 and used the findings from this report to categorize their funding action areas: Active People, Connected People, Green People, Inspired People, Promising Young People, Prosperous People.
TASSC saw a strong fit between our mandate and the goals and desired outcomes of the Connected People category. The goal of this category is to bring diverse groups together to reduce social isolation, increase civic engagement, and increase our knowledge of community needs. The Connected People tagline is, 'Building Inclusive and engaged communities together.’ Connected People aim to invest in projects that achieving the following:
“When different groups can find common ground, they build on each other’s strengths and close the distance between them. OTF aims to strengthen community ties, build a culture of collaboration, and give people a powerful, collective voice with which to move issues forward for the betterment of all.”
Here’s a video that describes the Connected People program.
TASSC’s newest project focuses on connecting and engaging with people to build a community plan for Toronto’s diverse Aboriginal community. This 3 year project will update and enhance the 2011 Toronto Aboriginal Research Project Report by expanding our reach into Toronto's diverse Aboriginal community and by being inclusive of non-Aboriginal stakeholders. The aim of project is to build research relationships with marginalized Aboriginal groups, while increasing meaningful engagement, reducing social isolation, and informing and improving the work of 10 support service agencies in Toronto. The project also welcomes the participation of non-Aboriginal stakeholders (non-Aboriginal support services, academia, government, and businesses) to further drive agency program quality and community impact.
We’re looking forward to inviting the community to gather, learn, and share our collective vision for a stronger, healthier community. TASSC is also committed to discussing our reflections on the successes and challenges of our engagement strategy over the next 3 years. Media or questions on this project should be directed to Crystal Basi, Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please join us as we officially launch our project on Wednesday, September 28 with a community BBQ at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. Please RSVP to email@example.com
December 2015: A Circle of Caring Toolkit for Cultural Awareness in the Schools and at Home (Indigenous Language Revitalization is a Bonus!)
The need for cultural awareness and sensitivity toward Indigenous realities within the school system has been well documented in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action as well as the recommendations made in the 2011 Toronto Aboriginal Research Project (TARP) Report. This includes the revitalization of Indigenous languages in school, communities and within the homes of Aboriginal families.
A new toolkit, A Circle of Caring, brings together COPA’s expertise in the field of bullying and violence prevention, equity and inclusion, along with the knowledge thoughts, and dedication from Aboriginal Elders and families across Ontario. The toolkit consists of an in-depth guide and animated film series covering 21 different topics in 7 Indigenous languages along with French and English.
The A Circle of Caring guide covers difficult situations and offers both teachers and parents explicit and summarized information on topics such as lateral violence, internalized racism, residential schools, parents in prison – all heavy subject matter. In addition to exploring these topics, the guide also ensures that parents, caregivers and teachers are equipped with resources to take action to nurture their children and prevent bullying. This includes how to talk to the child being bullied, witnesses to the bullying, and the child doing the bullying. Great care is taken to explain terminology and provide a cultural and historical context to all topics. The Film Discussion section may be the most important aspect of this guide as it reviews each of the 21 film topics and poses specific questions to family members, and questions directed at school staff and community leaders. In this way, anyone can call together a community meeting, review the short film segments and hold guided circle discussions to bring about meaningful conversations on difficult topics.
Luckily the animated films are much lighter and very entertaining to watch. The characters may remind you of the old Barbapapa cartoons with their odd shapes and colours. Although an Elder provides a voice over, the film characters only squeak, grumble, cry and laugh – these sound effects are entertaining for the children and help keep the message cheerful. You will notice medicine wheels, métis infinity signs, drumming, a métis sach, and children throat singing throughout the films. For those who may not understand the significance of these symbols they are explained in the guide.
What is especially exciting about A Circle of Caring is that it can be used as an Indigenous language tool in schools, communities, and at home. For those of us trying to learn our Indigenous language we can first watch in English or French or read along with the English narrative version in the guide. We can then switch to our Indigenous language of choice and hear wonderful narration in Cree, Inuktitut, Michif, Mohawk, Ojibway, Oji-Cree, or Oneida. This is a fun way to introduce an Indigenous language to our children!
You can go on-line to the COPA website to learn more about this project, watch the animated films (in your language of choice), download the guide, or order a kit. Here’s the direct link: http://www.copahabitat.ca/en/aboriginal-resources We hope you will share this resource with your family, community, and children’s teachers!
April 2016 - TASSC Acknowledgment on Recognition of Métis and Non-Status Rights
The Toronto Aboriginal Support Service Council acknowledges the court for ruling in favour of
Métis and Non-Status Indian rights in the Supreme Court case “Daniels vs. Canada” (Indian
Affairs and Northern Development), 2016 SCC 12 on April 14, 2016.
The important steps taken towards Indigenous equity in Canada haven been reflected in the
outcomes of the Canadian Federal Government’s recognition that Métis and Non-Status Indians
are in fact entitled to the same rights as Status Indians and Inuit. Approximately 200 000 Métis
and 400 000 Non-Status Indians will now have access to benefits, rights, and First Nations
programs and services, previously unavailable to them.
In the 2015 TASSC Community Report Card, when asked how Indigenous people in Toronto self identify, “Métis” is the third largest identifier.
Historically, Indigenous people in Canada have faced discrimination surrounding government legislation on who in considered “Status Indian”. Disenfranchisement is the act of removing Indian Status from people who don’t qualify under the Indian Act. Up until 1985, Status Indigenous women who married Non-Indigenous or Non-Status Indigenous men would have their status denied and leaving future generations without. Status Indians who moved off reservations, obtained university degrees, or joined the Army also lost Status. This discrimination was the product of a patriarchal and paternal stance from the Government of Canada.
Self determination for Indigenous Nations is not just a priority but a right under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP Article 3, Article 4). “Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination,
have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”
Canada has a fiduciary responsibility to respect Indigenous self government under Section 35 of the Constitution Act (1982) and yet it maintains a paternal relationship with First Nations regarding who is and isn’t Indigenous and entitled to treaty rights. To be self governing nations, as the nation to nation treaty relationship in Canada is based, Indigenous Nations must have the
right to maintain who is and isn’t a citizen of their Nation and thus entitled to rights. The ruling of recognition for Métis and Non-Status Indians is just one step in the road to reconciliation in Canada and while exciting, we must not forget the history of the relationship this ruling is based on, or the long journey moving forward to reassert Indigenous rights.
February 20, 2016: Comparing Premier Wynne's Mandate Letter to Minister of CYS Response Letter
On September 25, 2014 Premier Wynne wrote a mandate letter to Hon. Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Children and Youth Services about expected priorities for the Ministry. The 3rd priority on the list was, Building Strong Relationships with our Aboriginal Partners. Below are the bullet points included in the letter:
On January 11, 2016 Hon. Tracy MacCharles wrote a response letter on the progress made since the mandate letter. Below is the statement response on the 'Building Strong Relationships with our Aboriginal Partners' priority:
What are your thoughts? Is the MCYS meeting the priorities set out by the Premier?
November 23, 2015: RESPONSE – PM Justin Trudeau’s Letters to Minister of INAC
There was certainly a feeling of disbelief, as I read a Tweet from Pamela Palmater regarding the publication of our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Mandate Letter. Certainly, it came as a surprise, as this level of transparency from our Government would have been unheard of months ago.
While I read through, word for word, of the work set out for our Honorable Dr. Bennett, the feeling of hopefulness grew in the pit of my gut. FINALLY, “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples” was written from the pen of a PM. John A. MacDonald must be rolling in his grave. Elijah Harper, the man that said NO, and Randy Kapashesit, representative for the United Nations North American Indigenous Caucus, would be PROUD.
This public disclosure of all mandates to the various federal Ministers in Canada is the second most notable change in governing practices, following the appointment of Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, as the Canadian Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
Some of the top priorities: Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous women and girls, ensuring the Crown is fully executing consultation and accommodation obligations, Funding, and Education.
This by all means does not mean that it is time for us to sit back and relax. We as a community have to continue to make ourselves heard. Aboriginal civic engagement is vital to ensuring accountability of our representatives in all levels of governments, both Indigenous and Canadian. Being engaged also includes being an active community member, such as participating in community events both recreational and cultural. Many of the information gathered by organizations does eventually help shape public policies that fund Aboriginal social services we utilize. The hard work and commitment in advocacy by various member agencies, such as the residential school/intergenerational Survivors from the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre is an example of productive use of community-level civic engagement. This group was proactive with the strong support of their community centre, who helped launch their own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, instead of waiting for Ottawa’s national TRC to begin.
Let us remember how strong we are when we come together for the well-being of our future and to remind the City council that we live here too. Urban city centres tend to overlook Indigenous people in the processes of developing policy changes. This is now the time to write your councillors and remind them of their commitment to the City of Toronto Urban Aboriginal Framework while embarking on the T.O. Prosperity Anti-Poverty Strategy.
November 2, 2015: Solutions to Racism in Canada
TASSC discusses Racism with TV Show, Context with Lorna Dueck
This blog post was the result of TASSC attending a taping of the talk show, Context with Lorna Dueck. Please click HERE to read the post from the show's offical website. You can also stay tuned for a upcoming episode on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action!
ASSOCIATE MEMBER ORGANIZATIONS
Native Canadian Centre of Toronto
Native Child and Family Services of Toronto
Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training
Native Men's Residence
2 Spirited People of the 1st Nations
Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto