The children who were taken from their families during the Sixties Scoop are known as a hidden generation among those fighting for justice.

Lawsuit Proceeds for Canada’s Lost Generation of Stolen Babies

David P. Ball

A class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government on behalf of tens of thousands of indigenous children who were seized and moved to white families in an adoption wave known as the “Sixties Scoop” can now proceed after being approved by an Ontario judge.

The decision was handed down after several previous lawsuits in Canada failed, and as attention in the U.S. focused on the Baby Veronica custody case.

RELATED: Baby Veronica & Our Stolen Children: 'Someday, They'll Come Back'

“[The] harm done was profound and included lasting psychological and emotional damage,” said Justice Edward Belobaba in rejecting the government's arguments and summarizing his rationale for certifying the case, which affects at least 16,000 children in Ontario alone.

The Sixties Scoop followed a similar pattern across Canada, as the federal government signed funding agreements with the provinces that extended provincial child and family welfare services onto First Nations reserves. For example, in Ontario, the Crown signed the Ontario-Canada-Ontario Welfare Services Agreement on December 1, 1965. That lasted until the end of 1984, when a new federal law, the Child and Family Services Act, made “aboriginality an important factor in child protection and placement practices,” Belobaba said in his September 27 decision.

The class action is being represented by Beaverhouse First Nation Chief Marcia Brown Martel, who was seized from her Ojibwe family and adopted into a community where she was the only Native.

“It is in the power of the Government of Canada to right this wrong, to change how our Canadian systems work with aboriginal communities, to take the apology they offered and stand by it, and have it be a cornerstone to a new relationship—a dynamic, fulfilling relationship—to extend the apology to more than just fine words,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network. “It needs action.”

Currently, she added, there are “more than just the survivors to contend with. Every community that lost children to the Sixties Scoop has parents and extended family also affected by the loss of their loved ones.

“I was swept from my family, my community, my siblings, my extended family, my ability to function as an aboriginal person at all,” she said, “I had nothing as a young person, to say, 'Yes, I am First Nations,' other than the color of my skin and my hair. That's all I had left.”

As the only aboriginal person in a non-Native community, she felt completely alone in her struggles even into adulthood.

“Personally, it was a very, very lonely time in my life,” she said. “You start searching as a young adult to find your community. I'm very fortunate: I remembered my name as Sally Susan Mathias. Some may be so young that they would never remember their birth name. You don't know where to begin. It is an extremely difficult process.”

According to Sixties Scoop survivor Ernie Crey, who co-authored the 1998 book Stolen from Our Embrace (Douglas & McIntyre) with Suzanne Fournier and founded an aboriginal-run child welfare agency in British Columbia, Canadian aboriginal child welfare policies differ significantly from those in the U.S.

“It's a patchwork quilt here in Canada, versus what's true in the U.S. in the way of child protection,” Crey explained. “There isn't a National Indian Child Welfare Act in Canada, or anything even remotely like it, either. That goes back to the Sixties, when the Department of Indian Affairs refused to legislate child protection under the Indian Act. They abandoned the field to each province. That's what precipitated the Sixties Scoop.”

As some residential schools began to close around the same time, the change in child protection “created a perfect storm,” Crey said. “That's when the social workers from each province literally ... descended on the communities and apprehended children en masse.”

Advocates have described the Sixties Scoop as “identity genocide of children.” But many point out that even today there are more aboriginal children in Canada's child welfare system than ever attended residential schools.

“We're basically warehousing thousands and thousands of children in long-term care,” Crey said. “We're confining them to foster care.”

In another prominent case, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society director Cindy Blackstock and the Assembly of First Nations have taken the issue of unequal funding for aboriginal child services to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Blackstock cited recent statistics that 48 per cent of children in foster care are aboriginal – even though they make up less than eight per cent of Canada's children.

“We're looking at thousands and thousands of kids who are being raised away from their families,” she said in an earlier interview. “One of the big lessons that all of us should have learned, and certainly the government should have learned, from residential school, is that children need to grow up in their families. Then they learn the culture of themselves and their people.”

Below, the trailer for a documentary being made about this era, which took an entire generation of children away from their families even as residential schools closed down. 

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metis22's picture
Submitted by metis22 on
One thing needed in the U.S.A. to stop the foster care system abuse is laws that the family has to be told what it is doing wrong and how to get their children back home. I can name at least three states that have laws that state children can be taken and the families do not have to be told why or what they are doing wrong. "Family return plans" should have to be made within 7 days of removal or actual charges filed. Families should have the RIGHT to know what they supposed are doing wrong. "Squalid conditions" should have to be photographed and documented, even more so there should have to be a legal definition of what "squalid conditions" are. "Endangerment" should have to have a written, legal definition. The laws should be the same for EVERYONE, including immigrants. Foster care should not be a business that requires social workers to find "quotas" of suspected abuse. This is very contentious but becoming more widespread - if a child accuses a teacher or school worker of wrong-doing, their family will find themselves accused of abuse. Any child in foster care longer than 6 months should have to have a formal, documented plan to retransition home. Amazing that citizens have the right to know what crime they're being charged with but not why their children are being stolen.

Cynthia pickel's picture
Cynthia pickel
Submitted by Cynthia pickel on
Abenaki warrior whose children were stolen illegally

kristine seitcher's picture
kristine seitcher
Submitted by kristine seitcher on
totally government. all about stripping us of rights nd authenticity. all about family? yet they rewire my childrens mindframe to theyr roots. its the residential school all over again. perhaps It never stopd. found a new way to get into our communitys take our children. make our children live theyr way, yet wen the kids dnt measure up somethings wrong? seriously..incompetent I say. ministry that is.

A-nony-mous's picture
Submitted by A-nony-mous on
This is so awesome. I was seized by the Ontario Children's Aid Society in the early 80s and adopted out shortly thereafter. My natural (biological) father was adopted in the late 60s or early 70s, also in Ontario but I don't think through CAS, and is partially FN. I'm still trying to reclaim my roots and find out what tribe and band and it's so difficult because so little is known about his adoption. I can echo Chief Martel's feelings so strongly. It's such a lonely place here so far from Ontario and in a completely white suburb now. And basically feeling like I don't even deserve to call myself FN because I was not raised in the culture and have no way to prove any of it. It's all gone and back in Ontario and locked up in documents there that I'll probably never find.

Arthur Fisher's picture
Arthur Fisher
Submitted by Arthur Fisher on
There is so much to say about this, I don't even know where to begin. I wasn't part of the " sixties scoop", but there are those I've met throughout my life that were taken from their families. Today, they are lost out there in mainstream society and they have no idea where to turn for help. They've become alcoholics, druggies, dropouts and just criminals in general. Most know that they're NATIVE, but were they to go to their respected reserve, they feel they would not be welcome. So they are out there trying to find themselves, but instead they get caught up in the drug and alcohol scene. They want to better their situation, but outside society doesn't want them and they're afraid to go home because all they know is life off-reserve, seeing as how they were taken away in their formative years. Those years when they should have been learning survival methods, instead they were taken away into hostile environs and abused, mistreated and beat in general. They were beaten, by those whom adopted them, because those people didn't want to spank or hit their own children. Sure the GOVERNMENT said all prospective families were screened, but if you just held out and played THE SYSTEM properly, you were rewarded and given a child so you didn't have to punish your own. Don't tell me it didn't happen because I've seen the scars and the disfigurement caused by those beatings. They all pretty much tell the same story, that of receiving the punishment in place of the REAL CULPRIT, which was THEIR OWN CHILD. Being made to stand naked in a corner until they admitted to the misdeed, or put in a bathtub of freezing water until they were turning blue. Sure there were those that say they had a very pleasant experience and said they were raised without mistreatment, but those whom were mistreated outweigh those who didn't experience the dark side. I helped a lot of them find their way back home, but there were those whom were just too afraid. Afraid they wouldn't be accepted and afraid they would be laughed at because they didn't know anything about the way of life on a reservation.

Randy Mueller's picture
Randy Mueller
Submitted by Randy Mueller on
can't wait for the U.S. lawsuit for the same thing. sign me up!!!

Sharon DeNauro's picture
Sharon DeNauro
Submitted by Sharon DeNauro on
It is the time to stand together and take our children back. Bring BABY VERONICA HOME TO HER dad.

A Voice's picture
A Voice
Submitted by A Voice on
It's interesting to me that no one ever seems to talk about WHY Aboriginal children are apprehended from their families; why any child would be apprehended from their families. Dysfunctional or abusive parenting. In today's child welfare world, if a family is parenting appropriately (ie no drinking binges, abuse, etc), a child will not be apprehended. The sad reality is that in so many cases, when an Aboriginal child is apprehended from his/her family, there is such a lack of healthy, high-functioning Aboriginal families that would be appropriate placement choices for the child. Take a look at reserves. Stop blaming the child welfare system and start taking a good hard look at WHY the child was apprehended in the first place. If the Aboriginal community used even half of the energy they expend playing the blame game and refocused it onto helping families get healthy, we would see far less Aboriginal children in care. Stop looking for government apologies and stop playing the victim. Change within Aboriginal communites needs to come from Aboriginal people themselves. Start parenting properly and you'll keep your kids. Period.

Ernie Crey's picture
Ernie Crey
Submitted by Ernie Crey on
To: A Voice This is a story about what happened to kids after they were removed, the treatment they were subjected to and the traumas they endured. It's not a story about the failings of their biological parents. And I hardly think your patronizing lecture helps anyone. Turn-off or tone down the guilt ridden conscience. Read, listen & learn.

arv299's picture
Submitted by arv299 on
To A Voice: Here is your why In the 60's (and prior to) it was common practice to take Native children for "unfit conditions" and place them into adoption, many of these Native children having Native family other than their parents suitable to take care of them, however they were still placed into white culture and if they could pass for white great, but no matter what don't speak of your Native heritage because in the 60's this was "shameful". You can't tell me that an entire ethnic group are raising their children wrong, and that every single Native has a drinking problem the proof is in how many children have been taken away and put up for adoption before the birth parents could even get them back. Your post is ridiculous and you should probably look into this a little more, maybe talk to a few Natives who were adopted out and see if they know the reason why they were adopted or if they remember why they were adopted out.

kittykat2's picture
Submitted by kittykat2 on
I was adopted in 1968 taken at birth. I believe I am Native American and now know why the Britsh government hid my adoption records, for political reasons. For some reason they don't want me to find my way home, or ever know who my birth family was. But I know, because I never surrendered to the lies they told me. I have always had a strong belief in myself. Is this the world we live in? I am not sure what to do I have lost so much in my lifetime. I am a twin and was also separated from my brother Joshua at birth, but at 12 years we met at school and I say our blood bond was stronger than their laws, and it showed me that they were wrong to separate us. And how he was there to protect me. Then they took me away from our school and sent me to boarding school to superset me from him again. It's been so isolating and lonely without my family. Difficult to identify with the people around me and make lasting relationships. My future is so uncertain. The bare facts are hiddeous when I think about what they did to prevent me from seeing my family. I believe my father was Cherokee and I am not allowed to talk of my origin here in the UK which is keeping me silent and tired of not telling my story. I felt apart of your paper and the fight which is still going on today. My life was made too difficult by the separation and I have been unfairly treated. My birth father was brave and petitioned the adopted family to return me but they denied having me with them. Not a good situation to be in. It was not in the best interest of my family to leave me a baby girl with a crippled barren woman who new nothing of life. The argument is so strong that the injustice to my family becomes quite clear. I am only sorry that the good guys lost in my case and I feel I have to stop arguing and start living, but where do I begin? I would like to reunite my family but my adopted family in the UK keep denying I have family. Where does it end? I have lost so much time.