Canadian documentary on forced adoption of Indians
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Sat May 6 15:25:55 MDT 2000
The Vancouver Sun
Saturday 6 May 2000
BRUTAL ASSAULT ON ABORIGINAL CULTURE
A new TV documentary tells the full story of how Canada
forced native children into non-native adoption.
By Stephen Hume
At the beginning of the 1960s, just about the time the idea of a more
participatory kind of democracy was beginning to take shape in Canada, our
federal and provincial governments embarked upon a savage assault upon
Thousands of aboriginal children of tender years were seized and sent
away to be raised by non-native families. The unspoken assumption was that
they would be assimilated into the mainstream culture -- and Canada's
nagging aboriginal "problem" would gradually disappear.
Although the genocidal intent of this Stalinesque policy was never
formally articulated, it certainly followed firmly established precedents.
Attempts had already been made to wreck aboriginal economies by
separating them from their resource base. Spiritual ceremonies, which were
the moral glue of communities, had been outlawed. Indians had been denied
the vote. It was an offence to even discuss land claims -- or, for that
matter, to hire their own lawyers.
And there had been a deliberate effort to eradicate aboriginal
languages using residential schools that were festering pits of sexual
abuse. They served to deliver another unspoken message -- "See, we can
take your children and you can do nothing."
In 1959, only one per cent of Canadian children taken from their
families and placed "in care" with provincial child welfare authorities
were aboriginal -- about the same proportion as aboriginal people
represented in the over-all population.
Ten years later, of all Canadian children in care, 44 per cent were
The "Sixties Scoop" was said to be for the good of the children. An
underlying assumption was that impoverished aboriginal families were
dysfunctional by nature, while mainstream families automatically provided
better upbringing for aboriginal kids.
In fact, points out Ernie Crey, one of those who was "apprehended" for
his own good (don't you love the Eichmann-like euphemisms of the
bureaucrats?), 95 per cent of these adoptions failed.
How should one describe this deliberate attempt to make an ethnically
distinct community vanish by seizing its children and trying to extinguish
their cultural identities?
Canadians have a difficult time coming to terms with this. Even now
one of our national newspapers advocates making the aboriginal "problem"
disappear through assimilation.
Now this whole dishonourable episode is discussed in the most painful
terms in a stunning new film by Maureen Kelleher, Tom Konyves and Annie
To Return frames its subject within the story of John Walkus, taken
from his home in the Kwakwaka'wakw village of Tsulquate near Port Hardy to
be raised by a well-meaning family in White Rock.
His voyage of self-discovery -- he is descended from the great carver
Charlie Walkus -- and the painful return to his village is horrifying in
its portrayal of the damage done but it is also a morally triumphant story
about how brave people may rise above the evils inflicted upon them.
To Return is one of the most powerful, illuminating and deeply
troubling documentaries I've seen in years. It will air on Sunday at 4 p.m.
on Vancouver TV and again on Tuesday, May 9, on Vision TV at 9 p.m.
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