MEDICINE HAT – On Monday, the Government of Alberta issued a formal apology to survivors of the Sixties Scoop.
It’s estimated around 20,000 Indigenous children were ripped from their families by child intervention services and placed with mostly non-Indigenous families.
Many of those children lost touch with their families, communities, culture and traditional language. Some suffered abuse at the hands of their caretakers.
Isolating the children from their families and their culture has led to many developing lasting impacts on their mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health and well-being, impacts that are still being felt today.
For the past year, the Alberta government has been working with Indigenous communities, survivors of the Sixties Scoop and others to develop an understanding of how the government policies affected people, and form a meaningful apology.
“It hurts just to imagine the heartbreak experienced by these families, along with the loss of language, culture and sense of belonging,” said Premier Rachel Notley.
“Survivors can never replace what was taken, and I am sorry. We must acknowledge these wrongs and the toll they have taken, and thank survivors for their courage in speaking up.”
For Brenda Mercer, the apology and acknowledgement is an important step towards healing and reconciliation.
“It really touched my heart, it made me feel proud and think again of being very resilient,” she said.
Mercer was born in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. Her mother never had a chance to take her home before social workers at the time scooped her up and took her away.
“My mom wasn’t really given the chance to say yes or no, I was just gone,” Mercer explained. “I came from a large family of 13.”
Before the age of two-and-a-half, Mercer had been in five different foster homes. She was then sent to live with a couple in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan. The people who took her in there would eventually become her parents.
“I ended up with Leo and Eva Madden, the best parents a girl could ask for. He was Irish, she was German. They were 55 years old when I was two-and-a-half,” Mercer said.
Mercer explained she was lucky, her parents loved her and raised her as if she were their own.
Growing up she said she knew she was different. She said there were only a few other children living in the town who were Indigenous. She had no connection to her culture and felt there was always some part of her that was missing.
At age 16, her mother Eva took Mercer to meet her birth family in Fort Qu’Appelle, her first step on a journey to discovering where she came from.
“That was hard because you don’t know them. You might look like them, but you don’t know them and it was very awkward. It took years to actually build some sort of closeness,” Mercer explained.
Over the years, Brenda Mercer has continued reconnecting with her culture and her birth family. She also remains very close with members of her adoptive family. Her journey is something she feels is important to share with her family and others.
“I’ve got two daughters, I’ve got seven grandchildren and I want them to be very proud of who they are and that they are part of Dakota.” she said.
Mercer is a former Medicine Hat College student and continues to volunteer with the Indigenous Student Support Office, where she’s able to help others and share her journey.
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