Photo by Divya Nanray
There are days I almost forget about it. I wake up and move about my life like everything is somewhat okay. I brush my teeth, make coffee and take my morning medication. Then I scroll through my phone and check Twitter—only to encounter another new article or report about Indigenous youth in foster care, and I am promptly reminded of who I am still.
I am a child stolen from their Indigenous biological family and placed into a genocidal child welfare system designed to destroy Indigeneity. This system was never broken—it is doing exactly what it was designed to do.
Most Canadians are aware of the horror of residential schools, but many don’t realize this genocidal system continues today, just in a different way—through the foster care system, where, across the country, Indigenous youth are horrifically overrepresented. For example, in B.C., 63 percent of youth in foster care are Indigenous; in Manitoba, it’s 91 percent. Some call it the “Millennium Scoop,” invoking the history of the Sixties Scoop, where Indigenous youth were stolen in tremendous numbers in the sixties and adopted/sold to non-Indigenous houses. I believe this system, which continues today, was designed for our destruction. The apprehensions continue, with little support given to biological or community based families to provide culturally safe child rearing.
I was removed from my mother and aunties’ care when I was two and placed in non-Indigenous foster homes. Some of these placements were safe and okay, but many times they were abusive and my siblings and I were often neglected. I mainly grew up in Christian homes that actively tried to destroy my queer identity on top of destroying the Indian in the child. I spent sixteen years in the colonially abusive foster care system, trying to survive as a Two Spirit person. There were times where I teetered at the edge of living and dying. I wanted to die more times than I care to remember.
It wasn’t until I began to own my Indigeneity and queerness that I realized that this was a pattern that had existed for generations. My own great grandparents stolen away, aunties and uncles displaced because the Church deemed their parents unfit.
Recently in Kamloops, B.C., an Indigenous baby was apprehended shortly after being born. Hospital staff reported the mom was neglecting the baby only 90 minutes after she had a C-section. In subsequent meetings, social workers claimed the first-time mother had not been meeting the baby's needs, while ignoring the fact that she was sedated and exhausted due to the C-section. This is a prime example of ingrained social racism towards Indigenous people that lead to Indigenous children being forcibly removed from their homes and families.
The days I wake up and remember I am a survivor of this machine are the days I am ready for anything. I remember what I had to do to survive in a system bent on killing me: steal, lie and cheat to even get half the chance my non-Indigenous peers got. I stole school supplies, clothes and food, to try to present as any semblance of normal. Then I remember this isn’t normal, this shouldn’t be normal, this should be stopped. My experience was one of abuse, neglect and destruction and it was designed to be exactly that. I am spending hours daily on denormalizing my experience, breaking it down and validating my emotions of loss, grief and desperation. I spend time processing the coping mechanisms I developed in order to survive and how I no longer need them today.
I wish more folks were aware of this—that more and more Indigenous youth are entering care and staying in care, being displaced and removed from family, community and culture. I wish more folks realized that the answer is accountability and that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2007 apology was only a performance. I wish more folks researched our suicide rates, looked into how many of my peoples don’t have safe and clean water. My reality is the one of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2 Spirit folks, of being stolen, of being not even a number in statistics.
Even those who know what happened sometimes forget. I wonder if they realize it’s happening still? The truth is the Millennium Scoop is still happening. Indigenous youth are being apprehended in record numbers and those who survive are being aged out of a system built to destroy us.
This article was originally published online in August 2019.