LETHBRIDGE – The experiences may have been different, but survivors of the “Sixties Scoop” have many things in common, the president of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta (SSISA) said Thursday.
Adam North Peigan was born on the Piikani Nation in 1964. He was removed from his home as an infant and placed in foster homes and children’s shelters in Lethbridge and elsewhere in southern Alberta. North Peigan spoke at an information session at the Holiday Inn in Lethbridge, to present information on a proposed settlement with the federal government and efforts towards an official apology.
“I think going from home to home, that’s not normal for a child to experience that,” North Peigan said in an interview. “I suffered from a lot of abandonment issues, and a lot of loss of identity, loss of culture, loss of language.
“Even today I don’t speak my own language fluently, the Blackfoot language, and that to me is a great sense of loss, and trying to bring that back to who I am as an Indigenous person, it’s been a struggle my whole life. But I’ve done the best that I can to be where I’m at today.”
North Peigan was returned to the Piikani Nation when he was 17, and immediately felt what he described as the culture shock of seeing poor housing, poverty, family violence, and alcoholism. Finding it difficult to become accepted, he began drinking heavily.
“It led me down a road that I’m not very proud of,” he recounted. “I ended up on the streets in Vancouver, on East Hastings, and my two older daughters got apprehended. So the cycle kind of continued itself. But that was where it hit bottom for me, and that’s when I started to turn things around.”
Visits back to his home community led North Peigan to reconnect with his family and elders, and he began attending ceremonies. He went on to become involved in an elected leadership role, and is also a pow wow dancer in the men’s traditional category.
The proposed settlement from Ottawa involves $750 million in individual compensation, with a further $50 million earmarked for a reconciliation foundation. First Nations and Inuit people who were removed from their homes as children between 1951 and 1991 would be entitled to amounts that could be from $25,000 to $50,000 depending on the number of claimants.
SSISA, which was recently endorsed by Blood Tribe Chief and Council, is in talks with the provincial government on an apology, which would take place in 2018, and North Peigan said an apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be another important step.
“The work that we’re doing will lead to an apology. But you have to understand that reconciliation begins with ‘I’m sorry.’ And after the apology happens, that’s when the healing begins,” he said. That process would include national gatherings and travelling exhibits, he added.
“I think what’s common with the Sixties Scoop survivors is a lot of the issues that we have had to endure, it’s all common. There’s loss of language, loss of identity, loss of culture… abandonment. All those issues are common, but it was experienced in different ways.
“We’re very resilient people, because we’ve had to walk in both cultures.”
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