A Secwepemc community will be marking the Family Day Weekend with a welcoming home celebration for all member children who are in foster care or were adopted out of community as a part of the Sixties Scoop.
“It is going to be a big welcoming home celebration on Feb. 16 and 17,” said Esk’etemc Chief Fred Robbins. “There will be a lot of tears and songs, along with pride in the community.”
The celebration will be the first of its kind at Esk’et in terms of its scale, he added.
“We are expecting 300 to 400 people to attend from outside our community. We are welcoming 13 new babies that were born this year and the previous year because we were unable to do that during the wildfires.
Caregivers and adoptive parents of community members will be honoured as well. Anyone who has cared for Esk’etemc children at any time in their lives will be recognized.
“We’ve invited the Ministry of Children and Family Development to participate and other First Nations groups to witness the celebration because they’d like to do the same thing in their communities and are excited about coming to Esk’et,” Robbins said.
Some children were adopted out from Esk’et during the Sixties Scoop, some going into the U.S.
“We have adult adopted members coming from the U.S. who had no idea they were Esk’etemc due to the Sixties Scoop and as part of the celebration we are welcoming them back to Esk’etemculúcw — which means the territory of the people of the white earth — where their ancestors came from,” Robbins said.
Former Chief Charlene Belleau spearheaded the planning of the celebration, as the event planner after she was successful in securing the funding for such an enormous undertaking.
Robbins said Belleau has taken time out of her busy schedule to lead and engage with community members and invited them to come back to the community.
The idea for the celebration came out of the Stsmémelt (children of the people) Project, a Secwepmc Nation-based child welfare project, working group who are taking the authority and jurisdiction back from the MCFD and working with the Province to manage child welfare services.
“We’d always discussed having the celebration and now that we are taking over the authority of our children that are in care funding was made possible through Charlene’s efforts,” Robbins said.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia the Sixties Scoop was a large scale removal of Indigenous children from their homes, communities and families of birth between 1951 to the 1980s and their subsequent adoption into predominantly non-Indigenous, middle-class families across the U.S. and Canada.
Many of them will be returning home for the first time and Esk’etemc will honour them with traditional gifts, Robbins said.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada indicates that the number of Indigenous children adopted between 1960 and 1990 was 11,132.
However, more recent research suggests upwards of more than 20,000 First Nation, Métis and Inuit children were removed from their homes.
Robbins is a residential school survivor and several years ago co-ordinated the St. Joseph Mission Residential School commemoration project that resulted in the installation of monuments at the former school site and Boitanio Park in Williams Lake.
Through his vision he brought together First Nations, Tribal Councils, local government leaders, school districts, and former students to remember, recover and reconcile.
For his efforts he was recognized with a BC Achievement Award in 2017 and in 2013 was the third person presented the Key to the Cariboo-Chilcotin by the Cariboo Regional District.
He was re-elected as chief in March 2018.