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Indigenous Women from the 60s Scoop: Healing through Ceremony

Categories: Racial Equity 

“My family, the young generation that’s coming up, ‘Auntie why are you always depressed?’ And I always try to share a bit, but they still don’t understand, but as for staff here, they don’t understand.” 

From the Report “Indigenous Women from the Sixties Scoop Healing Through the Full Moon Ceremony and Storytelling.”

By Maggie Campaigne & Anita C. Benoit 

The Sixties Scoop refers to a disturbing practice that occurred in Canada from 1951 until the ’80s where social workers forcibly removed First Nations, Inuit and Métis children from their Indigenous families and placed them in non-Indigenous homes across Canada, the United States and Western Europe. 

The catastrophic trauma of being “scooped up” from one’s home and culture continues to affect survivors – and their families – today. Often Sixties Scoop survivors report a loss of identity and culture, as well as physical, sexual and emotional abuse, which can have intergenerational and long-lasting repercussions. Connecting or reconnecting to one’s Indigenous culture provides a level of support for well-being and healing that is unlike Western approaches to mental health.

In 2019, Sixties Scoop survivors living at Winona’s Place – an Indigenous housing program at YWCA Toronto – took part in a collaborative research project led by Anita Benoit and supported by Janani Kodeeswaran and Maggie Campaigne.  This project was conceptualized by YWCA Toronto’s Indigenous Community Engagement Worker, Patricia Schuyler. After working with Anita on another project, Patricia noticed Indigenous women’s knowledge of cultural teachings, ceremonies and traditions varied greatly, particularly surrounding the Full Moon Ceremony. 

A research proposal to bring opportunities for cultural connections, including ceremony, to the Sixties Scoop survivors who live at Winona’s Place was submitted to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research funding agency. Participants were recruited and instantly engaged in the collaborative process in which they were asked how they envisioned the sessions. After joining the project, participants took part in two eight-week cycles, which included teaching circles and a Full Moon Ceremony with Indigenous Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Elders and other Indigenous persons carrying wisdom to share with the community. They took part in a focus group at the end of each cycle and completed feedback forms as part of information gathering. The participants were given cultural gifts for their ceremonial bundle, as well as monetary compensation for their contributions. 

Participants spoke about how learning cultural traditions, plants and elements has supported their healing journey by providing daily guidance. They developed relationships with each other, community mentors and teachers, and the research team. These relationships benefitted the collaborative nature of the project and supported a deeper experience for all. Throughout the project, the women discussed: experiences of the Sixties Scoop and the millennial scoop, trauma and hardships resulting from the Sixties Scoop, reconnecting to Indigenous culture to deal with their trauma, the impact of Indigenous culture on their own well-being, and the significance of programming for Sixties Scoop survivors. Some of the words they used to describe their experiences in the teaching circles were: ‘being listened to,’ ‘enjoying dinner,’ ‘expression,’ ‘connected,’ and ‘safe environment.’ 

The focus group and feedback from the women informed our recommendations to optimize various spaces and cultural programming for Indigenous women living at Winona’s Place:

  1. Accessibility of plant medicines was identified early on through the feedback, and was implemented immediately by creating an open medicine cabinet in the communal space for those in need. 
  2. The women in the project also responded well to having a diverse group of Grandmothers and Cultural Teachers who reflected various Nations, perspectives, and styles of teaching.  
  3. The active inclusion of participants in the design of the program was helpful to encourage participation and to better understand what would promote their well-being. 
  4. Another recommendation which does not come as a surprise, is the openness to be flexible with programming to support community members’ access. This may mean flexible timing, or the openness for participants to arrive or leave at different times. Also, this can relate to the ceremonial aspects and varying knowledge levels and willingness to participate, which should be respected without pressure to partake in any particular aspect. 
  5. Being mindful that the creation of exclusive space for Indigenous women is beneficial, especially when considering that Indigenous women may be on a journey of (re)connecting to their own culture. Indigenous people and especially Indigenous women, have historically been forced out of spaces, or made to share without the option of saying no. 
  6. Finally, creating safer program spaces for community members by making considerations around their privacy and their preferences for how a physical space is set up, including chairs, lights, blinds etc. Participants need to be engaged in creating and defining what they consider to be a safe space. 

Read the report here.

References

  1. Kodeeswaran J, Campaigne M, Benoit AC. Indigenous women from the sixties scoop healing through the Full Moon Ceremony and storytelling report. Toronto, ON, CAN; 2020 March. p. 48.
  2. Sinclair R. Identity lost and found: Lessons from the sixties scoop. First Peoples Child & Family Review. 2007;3(1):65-82.
  3. Spencer DC. Extraction and pulverization: a narrative analysis of Canada scoop survivors. Settler Colonial Studies. 2017;7(1):57-71.

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Anita C. Benoit’s families are from Brantville, a small French Acadian town, and Esgenoôpetitj First Nation in New Brunswick. She is an assistant professor at UTSC who conducts Indigenous health research with a focus on Indigenous women’s health and wellbeing.

Maggie Campaigne is a mixed Tsimshian and West-Euro background community worker who has lived and worked in the Indigenous community in Toronto for the last four years. Maggie is a daughter, sister, auntie and a musician. Maggie focuses on community-based and client-centred work, always acknowledging the diversity of her community, while trying to bring the four aspects of health into all that she does. She is an Indigenous Community Engagement Worker at YWCA Toronto’s Elm Centre.