LETHBRIDGE - To Adam North Peigan, June 17, 2015 was a very emotional day. It was the day when former Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger stood up in the provincial legislature and issued an official apology to all Sixties Scoop survivors in the province.
As a former Sixties Scoop survivor and President of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Alberta, North Peigan is now one of those leading the way for Premier Rachel Notley to do the same in the Alberta Legislature.
Over the course of three months, the provincial government is visiting six communities, including Peace River, Fort McMurray, Calgary, Edmonton, St. Paul and Lethbridge. The purpose is to engage survivors and their families to help the province form a meaningful apology in the future.
"What we would like to see," explains Peigan, "is that the Premier actually stands up and says, 'I'm sorry,' and acknowledges the atrocities and there's an acknowledgement that it was a dark chapter in Alberta's history."
What Peigan says he experienced as a child had a lot to do with how his adult life unfolded.
"I consumed alcohol quite a bit, I became an alcoholic and I ended up on the streets of Vancouver. As a young adult I became a parent. My two oldest daughters were apprehended because of my drinking. And it's almost like the cycle continued. Repeated itself. Because my two oldest daughters... they were also placed in a non-indigenous home. When that happened, I kind of woke up. That's where my healing journey began. That was 20 plus years ago.
"I'd like to say that experience of going through the Sixties Scoop - initially it was very, very tough... There were days when I contemplated suicide, not knowing where I was, where I fit in, where my community was, where my parents were, who my brothers and sisters were."
He says today as a 53-year-old man, his experiences have given him a lot of strength to put himself out there and lead the charge for reconciliation in Alberta.
The Sixties Scoop got its roots in 1951 Peigan says, when the federal government began to offload responsibility of Child and Family Services to the provinces in relation to Indigenous peoples, Metis, Non-Status Indians, and Inuit peoples.
Not long after, provincial authorities were given the go-ahead to remove those children from their families and place them in either foster care, or up for adoption. It snowballed in the 1960s and continued for at least two decades, he explained.
"What had happened through that process.... when they were taken away from their communities, it really destroyed our communities. It really had an impact on those kids. They suffered a lot of losses. Loss of family, loss of community, loss of culture, language. We were basically made permanent wards of the government from the time of removal. We weren't able to come back to our communities until we reached 17 or 18."
By that time, Peigan says many of those young adults experienced culture shock and had a difficult time being accepted by their own people. Many ended up drinking heavily, becoming involved in drugs and other self-destructive lifestyles.
"Many of those people sadly are not with us anymore. They couldn't come to terms with the atrocities and the trauma they experienced in those foster homes or adoptions."
Terrance Crow Shoe was also one of those children. At the Lethbridge engagement session, he spoke of some of the abuse he suffered as a very young child, and how it has affected him to this day. His is still homeless and struggles with alcoholism.
"Homeless for most of my life. Shuffled from home to home to home. Been physically abused.... when I was three or four years old, I used to have to drink out of the toilet bowl...my hand- it's been scalded through hot water...I used to be ashamed. The kids used to make fun of me... it was rough."
To express some of his thoughts on the process he created a painting called "People Coming Together," to help him deal with his emotions. It will be presented in the Legislature when Premier Notley makes her formal apology.
Richard Feehan, Minister of Indigenous Relations, says the province needs survivors and their families to come forward.
"....to be involved in this process for us to better understand how the Sixties Scoop affected their lives, how an apology could unfold and how to give it real meaning and depth."
North Peigan hopes when that occurs, the healing can begin.
"Reconciliation begins with an apology. We need to reunify and bring our survivors home."
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