The Truth and Reconciliation Commission forced Canada to confront the realities of its troubled history and face the truths of what Indigenous children were forced to endure while students were in the residential school system. Unfortunately, the experience of Métis survivors and their families is not as widely known to the general public.
In the aftermath of the North-West Resistance, the Federal Government ruled that Métis children should be admitted to federally funded residential schools. This policy was inconsistently applied and admission to residential schools was erratic and predicated on numerous external factors including the local situation. While some Métis children were discouraged from attending federally funded schools as they were seen as “Christianized” or “civilized enough”, there were other occasions where the federal government would regard these children as a “dangerous class” and in need of assimilation.
In 1937, the federal government reversed their previous decision, and it was decided that there would no longer be federal funding for Métis children attending residential schools. This decision would later impact survivors and their families when compensation agreements were initially negotiated in the 1990s.
However, despite this decision by the federal government, some Métis children were still sent to residential schools, particularly those that were funded by individual provinces or were church-owned and operated. Students at these schools faced the same deplorable and abusive conditions that students at federally funded schools endured. The design and goal of these schools were the same, to “kill the Indian in the child” regardless of their funding source.
Métis children also faced the loss of their culture, identity, and traditional languages. These losses have had a large effect on the Métis community at large and the descendants of the survivors of residential schools. The Métis Nation and its citizens are faced, to this day, with the lasting repercussions of the residential school system and the intergenerational trauma that residential schools caused. Moreover, many of our survivors have not been compensated, like our First Nations and Inuit brothers and sisters, because they were excluded from the previous compensation agreements and negotiations.
The “Sixties Scoop” is a term used to describe a child welfare policy developed and implemented throughout the 1960s that involved apprehending Indigenous children from their communities and placing them into middle-class Euro-Canadian families that were hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away from their families. The representation of Métis children within the child welfare system accelerated throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and even into the 1980s.
The practice of removing Métis children from their home and into state care existed long before the 1960s through the residential and day school system. However, throughout the late 1950s these institutions became highly discredited and the child welfare system became the new agent of assimilation and colonization. While the federal government may have been the prime catalyst for the Sixties Scoop, it was the provincial governments that apprehended Métis children.
The legacy of colonialism and the Eurocentric mindset dominated Canadian views of Indigenous people at a subconscious level, often portraying Indigenous people as less worthy and unfit to parent their children. These Euro-Western ideals and values were embedded within Canadian policy, the justice system, the child welfare system and were perpetuated by social workers, administrators, lawyers, government officials, and judges who viewed their everyday practices to be in the best interest of Indigenous children. Indigenous children often were apprehended because of the incongruence between Euro-Western notions, cultural practices and the realities of Indigenous communities; the ideal home for a child needed to be an environment to which society was familiar with: white, middle-class homes in white, middle-class neighbourhoods.
The separation of children away from their families and their placement into foster homes led to the destitution of family. Children were often physically, psychologically, and sexually abused while they were in the care of their non-Métis families. Much like the residential schools, children grew up in an environment that did not foster the growth of parenting or life skills. The forced removal of these children, and the intergenerational trauma, is directly linked to the socio-economic difficulties that face the Métis Nation today.