The 60s Scoop: How Did It Happen?

Canadian History in the News: The past is always a part of the present. This blog series looks at current events and stories that have a Canadian history element to them.


The sign above pretty much sums up what the “60s Scoop” was. First coined by Patrick Johnston in his 1983 report, Native Children and the Child Welfare System, the term refers to the period in which thousands of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children across Canada were taken from their homes by provincial welfare workers. These children were then fostered or adopted by non-Indigenous families both in Canada and abroad. The 1960s is when the majority of the adoptions happened, but this practice went on until the mid-1980s. How on earth did something like this happen? What is going on today in regards to the 60s Scoop? And what happened to all of those children?


Residential school children students. [Source]

The residential school system (1876-1996) was a government-sponsored religious boarding school system whose purpose was to force Indigenous children to assimilate into Euro-Canadian culture. Around 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse were common experiences for students. As a result the negative impact of residential schools is both far-reaching and ongoing.  The 60s Scoop comes from this legacy. As for why it happened when it did, there were two key changes in the 1950-1960s:

  1. The Indian Act was amended in 1951. One of amendments gave provinces jurisdiction over the welfare of Indigenous children.
  2. By the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government was beginning to close some of the schools because the system was destructive, ineffective, and costly. That being said, government authorities still felt that Indigenous children would benefit from assimilation.

Provincial governments felt that rather than put money and resources into Indigenous communities to improve issues like child welfare, the most practical and cost-efficient response was to take children from the reserves and place them with non-Indigenous families.

What Happened

A 1975 Government of Saskatchewan adoption services poster. The real names of the two kids circled are Barry and Lionel Hambly. They were the subject of Red Road, a documentary on the 60s Scoop. [Source]

The removal of Indigenous children from their homes was widespread and happened across Canada. Welfare authorities did not need to give much notice to take the children away and could do so on the slightest pretext.* Sometimes even newborns were taken. Although the above picture shows two brothers together, siblings were sometimes separated and adopted by different families. Aside from losing touch with their families, given one of the original goals of this practice was assimilation these children were largely placed with non-Indigenous (usually white) families. As a result many also lost their culture, languages, and traditions. Adoptions occurred both in and out of province, but some children were sent to the United States, Great Britain, and even places as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Some children also experienced psychological and physical abuse at the hands of their adoptive families.

* In most cases an investigation takes place to assess whether the child has been or is at risk of being harmed prior to the child being removed. Workers aren’t supposed to just come in, grab the kids, and leave.


  • According to the government, 11,132 Indigenous children were adopted between the years of 1960 and 1990.
  • Many argue the number is much higher, with estimates ranging from 16,000 to 20,000.
  • In 1955, 1% of children in British Columbia’s welfare system were from Indigenous families. In 1964, that percentage jumped to 34%.
  • By the 1970s, Indigenous kids made up 40-50% of children taken into custody by welfare authorities in Alberta. 50-60% in Manitoba; 60-70% in Saskatchewan.
  • In 1981, it was revealed that 55% of Indigenous welfare children were sent to the United States for adoption.


It was not until the 1980s, after Patrick Johnson’s report and Justice Edwin Kimelman’s 1985 report, No Quiet Place, that changes to child welfare policy started to occur. Sadly, over representation of Indigenous children in welfare is still an issue today. Now adults, many former adoptees have sought to reunite with their lost families and communities. Reunification programs have been established across Canada. Naturally, survivors still deal with the negative emotional effects of the 60s Scoop and due to the passage of time/other circumstances, reunification isn’t always an option. In addition to these programs, a strong advocacy movement has emerged and legal action has been pursued. The 1990s saw a number of class action lawsuits against both the federal and provincial governments (Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan). They all have yet to be settled.

Survivors, including Dokis Thibault (above), and supporters rallied together in front of a Toronto courtroom on August 23, 2016. A class action lawsuit regarding the 60s Scoop is underway.

On August 23, 2016, an Ontario Superior Court judge heard opening arguments for a class action lawsuit against the federal government by 60s Scoop survivors. The claim was originally launched in 2009 but has been held up in court due to federal appeals. The plaintiffs are asking for $1.3 billion in damages or $85,000 for each affected individual. In addition, many have called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to issue a formal apology on behalf of the government for the 60s Scoops. The Manitoba government issued a formal apology in 2015 and one is supposed to be underway in Saskatchewan.

Update: On October 6, 2017, it was announced that the federal government has reached an agreement in principle with survivors of the Sixties Scoop worth some $800 million. ($750 million for individual compensation, $50 million for a foundation dedicated to reconciliation initiatives). [Source]


“Chapter 14: Child Welfare,” Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba. Volume 1: The Justice System and Aboriginal People. The Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission. November 1999. Accessed from:

Dolha, Lloyd, “The Sixties Scoop: How Canada’s “Best Intentions” Proved Catastrophic,” First Nations Drum, March 24, 2009. Accessed from:

“Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs),” Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal. Undated. Accessed from:

Russell, Andrew, “What was the ‘60s Scoop’? Aboriginal children taken from homes a dark chapter in Canada’s history,” Global News. August 23, 2016. [Source]

Sinclair, N.J. & Dainard, S.. R. “Sixties Scoop,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. (2016). Accessed from:

Sinclair, Raven. “The 60’s Scoop,” Origins Canada. Accessed from:





2 thoughts on “The 60s Scoop: How Did It Happen?

  1. Lynda Dernisky says:

    SHAME, SHAME, SHAME no amount of money can EVER repair the pain and loss that these poor families have endured! We owe them much more.


  2. Ian Garnier says:

    I’m still trying to understand what SHOULD have been done. Should they have been left with abusive and negligent homes? We’re there enough native families willing to take in all the children? Were all the adopted children abused in their non indigenous adopted families? We’re none of them better off than if they had been left where they were?
    How is a big cheque going to right this wrong? Why is the solution to the many wrongs that the indigenous people suffered always money?


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