A group of Indigenous Sixties Scoop adoptees is trying to scuttle a proposed $800-million settlement announced last year by the federal government, CBC News has learned.
“Our mission right now is to put a stop to this,” said Priscilla Meeches, one of the Manitoba-based plaintiffs in the national class-action lawsuit.
“We need a better settlement than this, because there’s too many of us out there, and at the end of the day, it’s just not gonna be enough.”
She’s not alone in wanting to see the deal halted. A group in Ottawa called the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network has already sent a letter asking Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett for a meeting to discuss their concerns about the settlement, and launched a campaign against it.
The group is also trying to collect signatures on a petition from people who are opting out of the settlement.
‘I want people to be able to hear our stories like they did with the residential school survivors. That was never done. No one asked us what we went through.’– Sixties Scoop survivor Priscilla Meeches
Stewart Garnett, another Manitoba-based plaintiff, also wants to see the settlement reworked.
“First of all, how could [they] throw out a range of $20,000-$50,000 [per claimant]? How do you get that range?”
Meeches and Garnett were among the adoptees on stage when Bennett made the landmark announcement in Ottawa on Oct. 5, 2017. The settlement aims to provide compensation for thousands of First Nations and Inuit children who were placed in non-Indigenous care between 1951 and 1991, in what has become known as the Sixties Scoop.
Meeches and Garnett said they only got 24 hours notice of the October event, and didn’t see the terms of the settlement before it was announced.
“Once I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together that I was the token face for the Sixties Scoop, it wasn’t a matter of supporting it or not,” said Garnett.
Under the proposed settlement, which has yet to be finalized, Ottawa has set aside $750 million for individual compensation and another $50 million for a foundation dedicated to reconciliation initiatives. Another $75 million will cover legal fees.
During what is known now as the Sixties Scoop, federal and provincial agencies would place ads like this in newspapers, trying to place Indigenous children in white homes.
Meeches and other adoptees say they only got a copy of the full agreement last week, and said once they saw the details, they had to speak out against it.
There’s a clause in the agreement that gives Ottawa the option to declare the agreement null and void if 2,000 eligible claimants opt out. The federal government has not indicated if it would exercise that option.
“I want this to be re-looked at. I want people to be able to hear our stories like they did with the residential school survivors. That was never done. No one asked us what we went through,” said Meeches.
“Right now, I’m asking [claimants] to stand up with me and Stewart [Garnett] and with the rest of the people that agree with us on this, and to get our 2,000 signatures so we can put a stop to this in court in May.”
Court dates coming in May
The courts in charge of the case still have to decide whether to approve the proposed settlement. Submissions about the approval of the proposed settlement are planned for May 10 and 11 in Saskatoon, and May 29 and 30 in Toronto.
Payments and other benefits will only be made available if the courts approve the proposed settlement and after any appeals are resolved.
If there are more than 20,000 claimants, each individual will receive a payout of $25,000. If there are fewer than 20,000, each claimant will receive up to a maximum of $50,000.
The settlement is national in scope and is expected to put an end to most of the 18 related lawsuits that are active throughout the country.
The government got a commitment from lawyers that they wouldn’t go back to survivors demanding more money — a measure intended to avoid one of the major pitfalls of the residential school settlement, in which many students faced huge legal bills after receiving their compensation.
Anyone who opts in to the settlement cannot include the federal government in any further legal action against third parties, such as the provinces, territories or individuals.
Coleen Rajotte was taken from her Cree community in Saskatchewan when she was three months old and raised by a Manitoba family. She is part of a campaign to have 2,000 Sixties Scoop adoptees opt out of the settlement agreement announced in October. She wants it re-negotiated. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)
The biggest concern for adoptee Colleen Rajotte is that there was little to no consultation with survivors.
“Adoptees were not consulted, and the government just got together with a bunch of white lawyers, and these lawyers were able to negotiate $75 million [in legal fees] for themselves,” she said.
“You know, $20,000 might sound like a lot of money but … we’ve lost our culture, our connection to our family, our language, our identity,” she said.
“Lawyers are going to walk away with tons of money and we’re barely getting anything.”
Rajotte has connected with the National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network, which has started the online campaign against the settlement. The group is made up of First Nation, Inuit and Métis people who were removed by past and current child welfare systems. Some of them, including Métis people, are not eligible for the $800-million settlement.
“The National Indigenous Survivors of Child Welfare Network feels the agreement is unfair, unreasonable and not in the best interest of Sixties Scoop Survivors,” co-founder and director Duane Morriseau-Beck wrote to CBC News in an email.
Beaverhouse First Nation Chief Marcia Brown Martel, who is the lead plaintiff in an Ontario class-action Sixties Scoop suit, was taken from her home community north of North Bay, Ont., in 1967 when she was four years old. She spent years in foster care, losing her first language and cultural identity. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
“For an agreement to be meaningful, the Network advocates for a survivor-led, inclusive, informed and comprehensive agreement that remedies all the wrongs.”
In a statement from Bennett’s office, a spokesperson referred to the Sixties Scoop as a “dark and painful chapter in Canada’s history,” but defended the proposed settlement.
“We now have a proposed settlement which resolves the issues raised by the longest-standing case in ongoing litigation and similar class-actions,” the statement emailed to CBC News said.
“This represents a significant first step in resolving this historic injustice, but we know that there are other claims that remain unresolved, including those of the Métis and non-status. We remain committed to working with all Indigenous peoples affected by the Sixties Scoop to resolve the remaining litigation through negotiation.”
Ontario plaintiff stick with settlement
Some survivors say they stand by the settlement too.
Marcia Brown Martel, chief of Beaverhouse First Nation and the lead plaintiff in the Ontario class action suit, said she was involved in negotiating the settlement agreement from the beginning.
“When is enough? How much money is enough and why is it enough?” she said.
“Financially, there is not an amount of money one can put in front of me and say, ‘Is that enough?’ Of course it’s not. Money is not a balance of justice in this country and nor should anyone think it is.”
Brown Martel says she will not opt out, and she’s not concerned about the campaign to get 2,000 signatures.
“What people feel they need to do — that they believe is a good thing, a good act — that’s why we live in Canada. That’s why it’s such a beautiful country, because people can stand up and say, ‘I disagree with that,’ and that’s OK.”
‘We need a better settlement than this, because there’s too many of us out there, and at the end of the day, it’s just not gonna be enough.’2:11