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AFN national chief candidates would back inquiry into Sixties Scoop

December 5, 2023

National inquiry into removal of Indigenous children could become a key task for next AFN leader

Two people seen from behind, wearing orange shirts and looking at the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.
People gather on Parliament Hill for Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Ottawa on Sept. 30, 2021. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

CBC Indigenous: Some First Nations chiefs say the next national chief of the Assembly of First Nations should push for a national inquiry into the “Sixties Scoop” and the continued removal of Indigenous children from their families.

About 22,000 Indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous families between 1951 and 1991 — a practice known today as the Sixties Scoop.

Lake Manitoba Chief Cornell McLean, a Sixties Scoop survivor himself, is moving a resolution at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) special assembly in Ottawa this week to direct the advocacy organization and the national chief’s office to push for a national inquiry.

McLean told CBC News an investigation is needed both to promote healing and to determine why more Indigenous children are being removed from their families today than at the height of the residential school era.

“There’s still a lot of young people that turn 18, and [there are people] 30, 40-years-old that still have that trauma that they faced in a foster home that haven’t been able to deal with it,” McLean said.

The proposal is one of 42 resolutions that chiefs are hoping to tackle at a busy special assembly, where they will also elect a new national leader to replace RoseAnne Archibald. Archibald was ousted from the top job back in June. Voting to select a new chief takes place on Wednesday.

Lake Manitoba First Nation Chief Cornell McClean wants a national inquiry into the Sixties Scoop and continued removal of Indigenous children.
Lake Manitoba Chief Cornell McLean, a Sixties Scoop survivor, is leading the push for a national inquiry into the removal of Indigenous children. (CBC)

If chiefs pass the Sixties Scoop resolution, it will be one of the main tasks facing the new national chief.

All six AFN national chief candidates told CBC News they would take on the task. “The residential school system is alive and well in the modern child welfare system,” said candidate David Pratt from Muscowpetung First Nation in Saskatchewan.

“We need to reform that system, we need to fix it.”

Pratt is serving his second term as the first vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

Sheila North, a candidate from Bunibonibee Cree Nation in Manitoba, said multiple inquiries, commissions and reports on Indigenous issues over the years have made recommendations that never took effect. “There’s still a lot of issues that are outstanding,” said North, former grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

“I hope that going forward we’ll start to build in the implementation plan ahead of time.”

Calls to reopen Sixties Scoop compensation

The resolution was seconded by Sagkeeng First Nation Chief E.J. Fontaine of Manitoba.

It calls for an inquiry to determine the precise number of children and families affected by the Sixties Scoop, the number of children murdered or killed while in care, and the number adopted by non-Indigenous families. It calls for a better understanding of the long-term psychological and physical effects of displacement. It also urges the AFN to seek legal advice on reopening the application deadline for the Sixties Scoop Settlement, which set aside $750 million to compensate First Nations and Inuit survivors. “A lot of people are saying that they didn’t know about it,” McLean said. “There was no notification and they missed the opportunity to apply for it.”

The Federal Court recently approved more than $23 billion in compensation for what’s known as the Millennium Scoop, the systematic removal of First Nations children from their families from 1991 on.

Flags from First Nations stand in a convention centre hall.
Voting begins on Wednesday for the new national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

Cindy Woodhouse, who is on leave as AFN Manitoba regional chief to run as national chief, helped to negotiate the settlement, the largest in Canadian history. “It’s an unresolved issue and there’s lots of people out there that are still wondering who their families are, wondering who their communities are, wondering how to connect,” said Woodhouse, who is from the Pinaymootang First Nation. 

“We need to try and bring our families together once again.”

On top of compensation, Ottawa also committed $20 billion to reforming the on-reserve child welfare system — work it still needs to complete.  “I look forward to hearing the chiefs’ expectations,” said AFN national chief candidate Dean Sayers, former chief of Batchewana First Nation in Ontario.

“The Sixties Scoop is a symptom of colonization.”


Olivia Stefanovich, Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: