What really happened in the ’60s Scoop
Allan Higgs, former social workers, writes: “Yes, I scooped children. Here is why.”
The “’60s scoop” was a figment of a B.C. reporter’s imagination, used to underscore problems relating to child neglect in First Nations communities. Maybe it was more the design of a headline writer than anything.
Sadly, the phrase was picked up to draw attention to an important situation. Many First Nations children were entering the care of provincial governments after Ottawa passed responsibility to provinces.
At that time, the Feds were offloading costs wherever they could, often with no consultation with First Nation communities or the provinces.
I am surprised Doug Cuthand, a journalist of respect and experience, would get caught up in the ’60s Scoop trap (Sept. 9). Had he looked further, he might have come up with a different label — the “’60s Slosh.”
The problem was booze — destroyer of marriages, jobs, families, relationships and supports. Booze scooped up children and dumped them in foster homes.
But first, a court process had to deem them neglected or abandoned. Courts required proof. Courts wanted to know what was being done to avoid apprehension, what alternatives existed. When all else failed, children were made temporary wards of the Crown with the goal of reuniting them with families as quickly as possible. If that failed, another court process was needed to make the children permanent wards of the Crown. Again, proof had to be presented asserting there were no options: no relatives; no siblings; no possible placement back with parents. Most of the time, the cause was booze.
I never ran across a parent who said, “I hate my kids. You keep ‘em.” I recall them all saying they loved their children. They wanted their children home. But booze had become the master.
We tried very hard to work within community structures: chiefs, councillors, band staff, families. Because the parents were problem drinkers who fought with everyone, folks were reluctant to offer support for the children, let alone the parents. Heard over and over was “We don’t want to get involved!”
Yes, I scooped children. Here is why:
• Received word some parents hadn’t been seen in several days. Go to the house. No heat. No firewood. What little food is frozen. Crying baby on the floor. Her wet diaper is frozen to the floor.
• Police insist I accompany them at 3 a.m. to rural area. Arrived to find drunken orgy with children under 10 present.
• -35C. Make patrol down alley behind beer parlours and find two carloads of children in vehicles. Windows frosted over inside. Children are cold and hungry. Not the first time I found this situation. Step into the bar and hear, “Oh, oh, it’s the welfare.”
• After midnight at our home, there is banging on the back door. Open it up to girl, 6, and boy, 7, who say, “Mister, come to our house — there is blood all over.” Arrive at the house. Indeed blood and beer everywhere, walls, ceiling, floor. A crib is upside down and the baby is screaming. Look into the bedroom to see a naked 19-year-old and her boyfriend having intercourse. Observe another female naked from the waist up in other room. A police officer arrives; his second day on the job. His eyes are popping. Turns out the female in the other room has a breast slashed in two; this caused all the blood.
Oh, when I wasn’t busy scooping children and going through the court processes to have them made wards of the Crown, I was:
• Helping create agreements between bands, province and feds for social services on-reserve,
• Helping develop preventive social services, plus employment.
• Meeting chiefs, band administrators and staff to encourage foster homes;
• Trying to enhance the physical, emotional and spiritual values of foster parents trying to provide love, care, affection and understanding to children in care.
Bottom line: every child is a child of the Creator. Each of us has the responsibility to protect that precious gift and help him or her thrive physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
I’m 77, and this is my oral history!
Higgs spent 20 years working in social services in two provinces during the 1960s and ’70s. He then worked in Saskatchewan’s public service.
Originally published in the Regina Leader Post.