EDMONTON – Beatrix Massee is a Cree woman from Alberta but she speaks with a slight Tennessee twang – a legacy of the foster homes she grew up in after being taken from her mother by government authorities in the ’60s Scoop.
“I was placed in a home that was full of abuse, moved around from home to home to home,” Massee, 45, recalled Thursday.
“Wouldn’t it have been better if I’d been with my family?”
Massee was one of dozens of Scoop survivors who gathered at an Indigenous school in Edmonton for a sixth and final meeting with provincial officials. Alberta has been gathering input to craft a meaningful “sorry” for the thousands of children who were taken from their parents and culture and adopted into non-Indigenous homes.
“We’re estimating it could be anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 people in Alberta,” said Adam North Peigan of the Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society. “I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of survivors that have come out.”
Massee was two when she was taken from her mother, who she said was drinking and living in poverty. Her sister was taken at birth.
“I had to protect her and take care of her. I didn’t have a childhood, didn’t get to learn anything, because it was all about survival,” she said. “Nobody wanted us and it just messed me up.”
The Scoop happened to Indigenous families across Canada between 1951 and 1991. Children were taken from their homes and communities and placed as far away as New Zealand.
Manitoba was the first province to deliver an apology in 2015. Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall promised one, but resigned before it was fulfilled.
In October, the federal government announced it had reached a $750-million settlement with about 20,000 people. The agreement, which is yet to be finalized, would see survivors each receive between $25,000 and $50,000.
North Peigan said any apology from Alberta will have to include action.
“Resources need to be put on the table to allow survivors to come together and be able to begin the healing process. We’re looking for a long-term commitment from the government, both federally and provincially.”
Children’s Services Minister Danielle Larivee said there’s no timeline for a statement and plan.
She says Alberta has reduced the number of Indigenous children in government care, although they still make up two-thirds of caseloads despite being only 10 per cent of children in the province.
Officials are finalizing recommendations from a 2016 report on how to improve care for those kids.
“We haven’t been waiting (for those recommendations),” Larivee said. “We’ve been doing tremendous work to make sure we’re developing the relationships and creating the partnerships to make sure we can move forward.”
Massee said it’s been a tough road, with sad detours into drugs and alcohol and prostitution. A reunion with her birth family didn’t go so well. There was a suicide attempt.
But she’s doing all right. Coming home to Alberta was a big part of it.
“It was the ancestors who brought me back here. I started connecting with my culture and my identity and I started healing.”
She’s been sober for three years. She’s got a job. She’s reconnected with her daughter, who’s about to deliver a grandson.
Her sister is married and still lives in the United States.
“I’m OK,” she said, dabbing away tears.
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now if it wasn’t for my culture and my identity and my people. They’re the only ones in my whole life that showed me that they loved me.”