Urban Indigenous Populations
I remember back in October 2015, travelling to the University of Manitoba for a guest lecture by Pamela Palmater, a Mi’kmaq lawyer, professor, activist and politician. I was super excited to hear one of my favourite people speak for the first time. One of the things that stuck with me, in that particular talk, was the information that the province of Manitoba has always been a hotspot for Indigenous resistance in this country. She also spoke of how the province suppressed that resistance — Manitoba has a high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and Indigenous people are also overrepresented in the incarceration and child welfare systems. Everything she touched on in her lecture that day mirrored the reality I grew up with.
Fast forward a couple of years. On Oct. 6, 2017, Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs, announced an agreement-in-principle to compensate First Nations people who were adopted in what is now known as the ’60s Scoop. The agreement-in-principle would compensate those adopted between 1951 and 1991. There was finally an admission of guilt from the federal government that thousands of Indigenous children had been forcefully removed from their homes and communities. Many were shipped off to live with strangers, had their last names changed and struggled to find their ways back home, if they were lucky enough to.
In my work as a journalist, I read every single day about the things that Indigenous people go through. Both the good and the bad. The day we found out there was going to be an announcement about compensation, I was asked to reach out to ’60s Scoop Survivors to get their reaction and how they felt about it. The stories that I had heard were heartbreaking, but also not surprising. One woman shared, “If there wasn’t a social worker pressuring people on my reserve, I would have grown up in my home community with my family, learning the traditions, culture, and ceremony.”
This quote stuck with me. The reason why it stuck with me is that my immediate family falls into this category. My niece was born in October of 2017. While the mother was still at the hospital, social workers asked a ton of questions and tried to pressure her into placing her newborn baby in foster care. I understand that social workers are doing their due diligence, but I also understand that one of the main reasons why children are put into care is poverty. And I know from personal experience that there are a lot of young parents who don’t understand how the system works and don’t have the skills to be able to advocate for themselves if they are at risk of having a child apprehended. There are often not a lot of resources available to young Indigenous parents who might have been wards themselves at one point. In the summer of 2017, my nephew was apprehended just a few days after he was born. He was placed into the child welfare system as a permanent ward. I haven’t seen him since my initial visit in the hospital.
From having grandparents in residential schools to having cousins who were adopted in the ’60s Scoop to having nieces and nephews who are permanent wards in the child welfare system, one thing is clear: Indigenous children are still being apprehended and removed from their communities at an alarming rate. The residential schools have shone a bright light on the intergenerational effects of trauma and parenting. Many of the children of residential school Survivors were not given the love and support they needed to become good parents. This was passed down to many of the children of the ’60s Scoop. This vicious cycle of being brought up as wards of the state has had a devastating impact on First Nations communities as a whole.
How do you break the chains of something so widespread and systemic — when generation after generation has been brought up outside of their traditions, languages, communities and nations? Indigenous children have subsidized the Canadian economy since this country was founded. The question that I get caught up asking myself is why? Is it strictly for the land and its resources? Are they afraid of having healthy Indigenous communities?
In Manitoba, there are currently more than 10,000 children in care, with an estimated 90 per cent of those children being Indigenous. It is also known that there is one Indigenous baby per day apprehended from a hospital. The effects of having that many children in care is going to have consequences for the future. Eventually those kids will age out. As someone who has also researched youth homelessness in Manitoba, I can say that the majority of people experiencing homelessness spent their early years in the child welfare system. In 2015, a CBC article stated that more than 70 per cent of Manitoba inmates identified as “Aboriginal.” Many of them had also been involved in the child welfare system at one point or another.
When I bring this type of information to people, they wonder what the solutions are. I often think that there needs to be a dramatic shift in policy, one that focuses on preventative approaches, such as investing in communities and families while they are struggling, but also giving people the skills they need to be able to survive in a world that has left Indigenous Peoples on the fringes. On a personal level, the best thing I can do to prevent this from happening is to be a good father to my son and daughter, eventually breaking all the cycles that I grew up with.
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