What is the Sixties Scoop? The term Sixties Scoop was coined by Patrick Johnston in his 1983 report Native Children and the Child Welfare System. It refers to the Canadian practice, beginning in the 1960s and continuing until the late 1980s, of apprehending unusually high numbers of children of Aboriginal peoples in Canada [against the Native parents’ will] and fostering or adopting them out, usually into [medium-class]white families. An estimated 20,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families,” (1).The Sixties Scoop refers to a particular phase of a larger history, and not to an explicit government policy. Although the practice of removing Aboriginal children from their families and into state care existed before the 1960s (with the residential school system, for example), the drastic overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the child welfare system accelerated in the 1960s, when Aboriginal children were seized and taken from their homes and placed, in most cases, into middle-class Euro-Canadian families.
This overrepresentation continues today (2). In his play, Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth, Drew Hayden Taylor manifests how Janice’s life is greatly impacted by the scoop-up leading to the loss of culture, identity crisis, and lack of sense of belonging. When an individual faces the reality of being adopted, life can become dreadful and disconcerting. Firstly, as part of Janice’s loss of culture, she will encounter herself struggling to connect with her roots by not being able to understand or speak Ojibway (native language).
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For instance, when Janice says “... What was that she [Amelia] said to me in that language? ”, (Taylor, 80). This part expresses Janice’s desire to know and learn more about her culture. However, learning about it after thirty-six years of absence, will not provide her with the proper knowledge and deeper understanding of Native culture as a whole, on the contrary, it will give Janice only a vague grasp of it. Also, when Janice says “I wonder if that’s why I bought that white fur coat of mine, my heritage coming through,” (Taylor, 91).
In this case, it is clearly appreciated how Janice, who was removed from her family roots during the scoop-up, has grown up with an erroneous picture and false beliefs of what Native people look like As a result, she has created a mistaken perception of herself as an Aboriginal descendant which will repercuss the relationship between the Native environment and herself. In addition to the loss of culture, adoptees will go through an identity crisis, which can potentially make them feel guilty and confused preventing them from moving forward with their lives towards accomplishing their goals.
As an illustration, Janice says, “… I’m sorry I left the way I did. It must have been a horrible Christmas for you. But you must understand I didn’t walk out on you. I walked out on me. To everybody I was Grace, but to me I’m Janice. I don’t know if I can ever be the Grace you wanted, or the Grace Barb wants. I don’t know anything anymore …,” (Taylor, 101), she expresses sadness, uncertainty and incapability of discerning right from wrong. Thus, it can be deduced, she is suffering from identity crisis and she is unable to determine whether to hold on to her past or let it go and move on with her life.
She is in a state of confusion that has her emotionally unstable. Similarly, when Barb calls Janice Grace, to which Janice responds “No, it’s not. My name is Janice. I didn’t know about “Grace” until six months ago. I don’t feel comfortable being addressed that way. It’s like somebody calling you Susan or Victoria all of the sudden. It doesn’t feel right,” (Taylor, 83). It can be said that Janice experiences an ambivalent atmosphere making her uncomfortable and exasperated with her surroundings, building a barrier wall between her and others.
It is hard to imagine being called by one name all your life, and all of a sudden being told you have another name. It sets you back to the unknown giving you a sense of indignation, uncertainty and vexing. All in all, when an adopted person faces identity crisis, this individual will more than likely experience some alienation, incredulity and frustration. The loss of culture and identity crisis are two major factors affecting Janice’s life; furthermore, most of the indigenous children whom were adopted out during the Sixties Scoop will experience inner conflict due to a lack of sense of belonging because they cannot find acceptance within themselves and the world around them.
For example, Janice tells Barb “Barb, think about it. I was born here, but I don’t feel at home here and Amelia Earhart does. She’s family and I’m not because the Children’s Aid Society took me away. Doesn’t all this seem a little weird to you? ,”(Taylor, 82-83). This part can be described as ironic because even though Janice recognizes her roots, she feels Otter Lake is not her place to be.
She never had the opportunity to establish a connection, to create a bonding between her background and herself. As a consequence she has a lack of affinity towards her biological family and her Aboriginal heritage. Moreover, when Janice confesses to Barb, “I wanted to belong here so bad. When I drove up that driveway, it seemed like I had prepared my whole life for that meeting. But from the moment I arrived, I knew I didn’t belong. You didn’t even like me,” (Taylor, 91).
This expresses how Janice feels about her truth. The inevitable clash between her desire to belong to her past and the reality of her present, all of this leaving her in total perplexity. Therefore, it may be easier for a Native person to adapt to Western culture since they are surrounded by it, while to non-aboriginal people the Native culture is unknown. In other words, Janice feels the need to be accepted, to feel complete, but realizes that there is more to it than just looking like an Indian and wanting to be one.
Having said that, it can be concluded that Janice’s life was negatively impacted by the Sixties scoop creating obstacles to the development of a strong and healthy sense of understanding and acknowledgement of her cultural background and heritage. In other words, she finds herself conflicting internally and doubting about her identity, the place she belongs to in the world and the knowledge as well as the appreciation of her stolen life and culture as an Indian.
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