Background / Intro:
by M. Gouldhawke (Métis & Cree), April 19, 2020
Although all provinces across Canada took part in what became known as the Sixties Scoop (and the Seventies and Millennium Scoops), Saskatchewan was the only province to have a specific program that explicitly targeted Indigenous children for adoption to non-Native families.
Called the “Adopt Indian and Métis” (AIM) program, its groundwork had been laid in part by the supposedly “progressive” Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), who would later re-brand as the New Democratic Party (NDP) and take over management of the program from the Liberal Party when re-elected in Saskatchewan in 1971.
The Liberal government who initiated the AIM program in the ’60s had been “responding to the crisis of ‘overrepresentation’ that had emerged during the 1950’s and 1960’s when the CCF was in power,” according to Métis professor Allyson Stevenson, in an interview with the Red Anthropology website.
Stevenson explains how the CCF’s assimilation policy was in fact launched even earlier, as they came to power in the 1940’s and began a process of relocating Métis children and communities away from the southern part of the province, which had a larger settler population, to the northern half of Saskatchewan:
“Two examples of the CCF’s very first attempts involved establishing Métis ‘training colonies’ and the Green Lake Children’s Home for Métis children in the late 1940’s. Both are fascinating examples of the settler-colonial removal mentality laced with the social gospel desire for uplifting and social engineering beloved by the CCF. The colonies were eventually abandoned in 1960, after which the CCF shifted their focus to unmarried mothers and children using child welfare legislation. You also see in this period a shift in discourse from ‘assimilation’ to what appeared to be a more benign goal of integration. This really picked up speed after the 1951 revisions to the Indian Act that enabled provincial laws to be applicable on reserves.”
The CCF’s relocation scheme included “a notable example of government paternalism” in 1949, as explained in the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, when “the CCF government loaded many southern road allowance Métis, largely from ‘Little Chicago’ in the Lestock area, into ‘special’ railway cars in an attempt to settle them at Green Lake.”
“While the Métis were aboard the train, many watched in horror as local government authorities burned down their homes. This program of moving southern road allowance families to Green Lake continued into the mid-1950’s, when a number of families were moved from Lestock, Glen Mary and Baljennie.”
When the CCF regained power in 1971, now named the NDP, their aggressive advertising campaign for the AIM program came to be opposed by the Métis Society, located in Saskatoon, as explained by Stevenson in an article for the Active History website. “That year the Society formed the Métis Foster Home committee, led by Howard Adams and Métis activists Phyllis Trochie, Nora Thibodeau, and Vicki Racette to research the creation of a Métis-controlled foster home program,” wrote Stevenson.
Publishing their criticism of the program and its ads in the “New Breed” newspaper, and writing directly to the Department of Welfare, the Métis committee achieved some limited results, according to Stevenson’s thesis on Aboriginal transracial adoption in Saskatchewan:
“In response to the letter received from the Métis Society, officials at the Department of Welfare called a meeting with Dr. Howard Adams and the Métis Foster Home Committee in Saskatoon. There the government minimized the concerns of the Métis people… Officials acknowledged that the strongest point of view presented by Adams was resistance to the images of children used in the Adopt Indian and Métis ads. They considered altering the name, Adopt Indian and Métis, to AIM to appease the activists and dropping the reference to race, and giving the program a much broader focus. The officials admitted that the resistance engendered by the ads had seriously hampered their ability to work, stating, ‘The situation is this – Our Adopt Indian and Métis Centers in Regina and Saskatoon have been almost immobilized because we have not been able to recruit prospective adopting parents through the media because of the objections raised by the Métis Association.’ This event marked the beginning of pollination between this group and the Native Women’s Association.”
One of the Métis women involved in the struggle against the AIM program, Nora Cummings (then Thibodeau) spoke to the CBC podcast “Finding Cleo” in 2018, explaining that Cleo Semaganis’ mother Lillian reached out to her in 1973 in distress over AIM advertisements. “She came out holding this newspaper, and she was crying. And she said, ‘These are my babies!'”
“Cummings, who was president of the Saskatchewan Native Women’s Association at the time, was so incensed that she immediately recruited hundreds of women for a meeting with the minister of social services to protest the ads,” wrote Jennifer Fowler for CBC.
As part of the Finding Cleo podcast, Cree investigative reporter Connie Walker even uncovered an internal memo from 1973 (the NDP still being in power at the time) in which the director of Saskatchewan’s Adopt Indian Metis centre suggests that a supervisor in North Battleford be named “Salesperson of the Year” in recognition of the number of Indigenous children made wards of the province and eligible for adoption.
In 2019, the Saskatchewan NDP made a formal apology for their role in the Sixties and Seventies Scoops, but one survivor, Robert Doucette, explained to a Regina newspaper that records have been destroyed and the Scoop is not just history but also part of an ongoing legacy of trauma.
Doucette described attending the apology ceremony at the Saskatchewan Legislature buildings with a harrowing detail. “When we were sitting in [the] office, there’s a picture of Allan Blakeney,” said Doucette. “Allan Blakeney was the premier of the province of Saskatchewan when they sent two of my sisters and my brother to Ann Arbor, Michigan.”
The Canadian government is set to start paying out a settlement to “First Nations” and Inuit survivors of the Sixties and Seventies Scoops in 2020, but Métis were excluded from it and a separate claim has yet to be settled.
The ongoing systematic apprehension and adopting-out of Indigenous children to non-Native families in Canada is a critical part of a colonial continuum, including residential schools, massively disproportionate incarceration, neglect of health/housing/water services, settler/police/military violence, and land theft by governments and corporations, all aimed at eliminating Indigenous peoples as distinct political collectivities and our sovereignty along with it.
– M. Gouldhawke (Métis & Cree), April 19, 2020
Métis Foster Home Plan: Saskatoon
By Phyllis Trotchie, Nora Thibodeau, Vicki Racette (Métis)
Published in the New Breed newspaper (Nov. 1971)
The Métis of Saskatchewan are endeavoring to have the Métis children who are in foster homes in Saskatoon placed in Métis families or in a group foster home. There are approximately 100 Métis children in Saskatoon presently residing in foster homes or in the Kilburn foster home.
As Métis parents of Saskatoon, we are decidedly opposed to having our children separated from Métis homes and culture and being forced to live in white homes. In this plan we are proposing a system of foster care of our Métis children to be placed in Métis foster homes or in a group foster home under the control and management of Métis people.
Specifically, we object to these white foster homes because:
1. Our Métis children are subject to discrimination, because in a white supremacy society, children of Indian blood are naturally rejected.
2. In white homes our children are not given genuine love and a feeling of being wanted.
3. Our children naturally feel more contented and happy in their own Métis culture.
4. Because of their Indianness and appearance, our children can not really be accepted in the white society.
5. The white foster parents are able to terminate acceptance at any time the care of our children.
6. Consequently, we are shoved from foster home to foster home, continuously.
7. As Métis parents, we feel a sense of racial and cultural responsibility for our children.
8. We want our children to be brought up as Métis and not as middle class pseudo-whites.
9. These children belong in our Métis culture and nation.
10. We are opposed to a foster home scheme as a relocation or integration program.
11. We are opposed to the impersonal and dehumanizing institutional experience imposed on our foster children by white staff.
As a beginning program, we propose that the government transfer the Kilburn residential home of Saskatoon to the Métis parents of Saskatoon. As Métis, we will manage, control and maintain Kilburn Hall exclusively as a Métis group foster home. At the present time this hall accommodates mostly Métis and Indian children. Through a local council of Métis parents, we will administer this hall on terms in accordance to its present budget.
However, we would change the staff to being strictly Métis and Indian. Likewise, the regulations would be revised to be in accordance with Métis and Indian culture. Although attention will be given to qualified personnel, emphasis will be given to cultural, national and brotherhood qualifications.
In additions to Kilburn Hall, we will locate Métis foster families in Saskatoon, which will take Métis children as foster home placements. These potential foster homes would be thoroughly investigated and approved by our own Métis workers and would be supervised regularly.
The payment for foster home care should remain relatively the same, as we do not want families to become foster homes for financial gain. On the other hand, foster home parents should be compensated adequately to cover most expenses.
There are several adequate Métis homes in Saskatoon that would be willing to take Métis children as foster children and care for them more adequately than the present white foster homes.
Our committee suggests that this new Métis foster home placement plan be transferred from the Welfare Department to the Indian and Métis Department because past experiences with the Welfare Department have proven that it is unable to treat the Métis people as equal and full citizens and any new foster home plan under the Welfare Department would continue to be administered in a repressive and discriminatory manner.
Opposed to AIM Ads
Our committee severely opposes the advertisements placed in newspapers, radio and television about our Métis and Indian children through the AIM program. These ads are racist propaganda against the Métis and Indian people, for the following reasons:
1. Such ads project Métis parents as being incapable of looking after their children.
2. It inferiorizes and degrades our Métis children, in that they are displayed as surplus and unwanted children.
3. It portrays our people and nation as being weak because we are portrayed as begging to white people to take our children.
4. It is using our children to debase and humiliate our people by playing on children’s pathetic appearance to have white people care and support our children.
5. The pictures of Métis children used to promote this AIM program are racist, for they show those children who have slight, cute Indian appearance but yet remarkably white features.
6. It creates a situation that Métis children are so unwanted and ugly that the government has to make great efforts to find some kind of a home for them.
7. It suggests that our children are desperate for homes and will accept any white family who is sympathetic enough.
8. It entrenches the paternalistic and arrogant attitude of racism, and reinforces stereotypes.
9. It promotes the idea that Métis parents do not want nor love their children.
We urge that these kind of advertisements be stopped immediately.
Finally, we object to Métis children being shipped out of the province of Saskatchewan for adoption to white homes in other provinces.