In a significant victory for Indigenous rights activists, the Canadian government has recently agreed to pay up to $800 million dollars in compensation to Indigenous victims of historic forced adoptions. The settlement signals a potential renewed commitment by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to deliver on its campaign promise of rebuilding Crown-Indigenous relations.
The adoption programme at the centre of the settlement began in the 1960s, and ran until the 1980s, and saw Canadian social workers forcibly separate Indigenous children from their families and put them up for adoption with non-native families. As the New York Times reports, the adoption programme was commonly referred to as the “Sixties Scoop,” because children were “scooped” from their communities and sent to live with non-Indigenous families in Canada and around the world. Many children had no contact with their families or communities after their removal. Those placed in the adoption programme have spoken about the emotional, psychological, and spiritual harm that resulted from losing the connection to their heritage.
The Canadian Press reports that while negotiations are still ongoing, and the details of the settlement must be approved by the court, the settlement is expected to involve payouts of between $25,000 and $50,000 for each claimant- with total compensation estimated at a maximum of $750 million. A further $50 million will reportedly be used to establish a foundation for healing, which will help educate adoptees about their native culture and languages. An additional $75 million has been set aside to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees. The settlement is expected to affect an estimated 20,000 victims.
The Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett, said the settlement was an essential step “to begin to right the wrong of this dark and painful chapter” of Canadian history. Admitting that she had heard some “truly heartbreaking stories” about a loss of identity and alienation from plaintiffs, she said that apology, healing, and a focus on Indigenous language and culture would be essential steps for the country to take moving forward. Marcia Brown Martel, an Indigenous chief and one of the leaders spearheading the campaign for compensation, said she has “great hope that because we’ve reached this plateau, this will never, ever happen in Canada again.”
The Canadian government has been involved in litigation over the “Sixties Scoop” practice for several years. This month’s settlement is the first step in resolving several related lawsuits, including a successful class action lawsuit in Ontario, where the government was found to have breached its duty of care to the children placed in the adoption programme. A compensation hearing for that case was set to take place on October 11, but lead claimant Marcia Brown Martel instead chose to pursue national settlement negotiations with the government. She said it was important to her that “we got recognition and justice, not just for some, but for as many people as possible.”
The settlement, while certainly proving to be commendable, can also be understood as an attempt by the Trudeau government to deliver on its campaign promise to repair ties with Canada’s Indigenous population. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently told the United Nations that while “Canada remains a work in progress,” his government is intent on righting historical wrongs committed against Indigenous communities. While this month’s settlement will not make up for the pain and suffering caused by the forced adoption scheme, it is an important acknowledgment by the Canadian government of historical injustices, and is a positive step towards improving future Crown-Indigenous relations.
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