Mista Wasis recalls dreaming of the family he could barely remember after the government forced him from his community as a child and into a non-Indigenous home during the ’60s Scoop.
“I couldn’t make out what they were saying. But I know now what they were talking was our native language,” Wasis, 53, said Friday about his childhood dreams.
“I prayed to live to be six years old. I thought, if I can make it to school, that’s all I need. That’s all. Then, God, you can take me,” he said. “I died many times.”
Decades later, Wasis has been reunited with his Cree community in the Prairies and has vowed to help the thousands of other ’60s Scoop survivors still lost and grappling with their own unresolved trauma.
Wasis was one of a handful of survivors who spoke Friday at a rally in Ottawa, part of a string of demonstrations held in cities across the country pushing back against a proposed settlement that advocates say unfairly excludes many Indigenous people who were taken from their families and forcibly adopted.
Organizers with the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network, who arranged the day of solidarity, said the settlement was reached without meaningful consultation with survivors.
“We have a lot of Metis brothers and sisters and non-status (Indian) people who are left out of this settlement who went through the same experiences as us,” said Colleen Cardinal, the network’s co-founder and herself a survivor.
“We are here today for them in solidarity.”
The ’60s Scoop saw the federal government take thousands of Indigenous children from their homes and place them with non-Indigenous foster families across Canada and beyond.
In October, the government announced it had reached a $750-million settlement with about 20,000 survivors, some of whom were moved as far away as New Zealand, between 1951 and 1991. The agreement has yet to be finalized and includes an additional $50 million for a new Indigenous Healing Foundation.
The office of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said in a statement that the government is committed to negotiating to resolve any ongoing litigation and the proposed settlement is a first step.
“The ’60s Scoop is a dark and painful chapter in Canada’s history,” Bennett said. ”We know that there are other claims that remain unresolved, including those of the Metis and non-status.”
The network has accused the government of underestimating the number of survivors and also takes issue with the decision to pay four law firms a total of $75 million to oversee the settlement.
Director Duane Morrisseau-Beck, who is also a survivor, said the organization will continue to raise the issue until all everyone affected by the ’60s Scoop is included.
“As a Metis from Winnipeg, from Manitoba, this day for me means that we need to be able to raise our voices and say that we need to be included,” he said.
Demonstrations were scheduled Friday in seven other cities, including Montreal, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Whitehorse.
Elder Verna McGregor welcomed the gathering on unceded Algonquin territory in the Ottawa region, which includes Parliament Hill.
“We’re in the middle of sugar season — maple syrup,” McGregor said. “The running of the sap, it represents rebirth, that new life. But also, it’s a reminder after a long winter.
“For us as Anishinaabe, we’re coming out of a long winter after all these policies that were done here on Turtle Island,” she said, using a traditional First Nations term for North America.
Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press