Sunday, 30 September 2018


For First Nation, Métis & Inuit families, stories of government involvement in family life goes back generations.  

The legacy of removing children from their families and communities, first through the residential schools, and then through the child protection system, continues to impact the lives of these families, their children and their grandchildren.

The term Sixties Scoop was coined by Patrick Johnston, author of the 1983 report Native Children and the Child Welfare System. It refers to the mass removal of First Nation, Métis and Inuit children from their families into the child welfare system — in most cases without the consent of their families, bands or communities. 

Professor Raven Sinclair recounts that Johnston told her about a social worker from British Columbia who shared the phrase when she told him …with tears in her eyes — that it was common practice in B.C. in the mid-sixties to scoop children from mothers on reserves — almost all newly born children were taken. She was crying because she realized — 20 years later — what a mistake that had been. 

The Sixties Scoop refers to a particular phase of a larger Canadian history, and not to an explicit government policy.  

Although the practice of removing Indigenous children from their families and into state care existed before the 1960s (with the Canadian federally funded Indian Residential Schools), the drastic overrepresentation of these children in the child welfare system accelerated in the 1960s. 

This is because a robust new resurgence of the practice saw large numbers of children seized and taken from their homes — and placed, in most cases, into middle-class Euro-Canadian families. 

Every Child Matters — An Epidemic of Aboriginal Child Apprehension

The government began phasing out compulsory residential school education in the 1950s and 1960s as the public began to understand its devastating impacts on families. It was the general belief of government authorities at the time that Aboriginal children could receive a better education if they were transitioned into the public school system. 

Residential schools, however, persisted as a sort of boarding school for children whose families were deemed "unsuitable" to care for them.  

This transition to provincial services led to a 1951 amendment that enabled the Province to provide services to Aboriginal people where none existed federally. Child protection was one of these areas. 

In 1951, twenty-nine Aboriginal children were in provincial care in British Columbia; by 1964, that number was 1,466. Aboriginal children, who had comprised only 1 per cent of all children in care, came to make up just over 34 per cent.

In the 1960s, the child welfare system did not require, nor did it expect, social workers, to have specific training in dealing with children in Aboriginal communities. Many of these social workers were completely unfamiliar with the culture or history of the First Nation, Métis & Inuit communities they entered. 

What they believed constituted proper care was generally based on middle-class Euro-Canadian values. For example, when social workers entered the homes of families subsisting on a traditional Aboriginal diet of dried game, fish, and berries, and didn’t see fridges or cupboards stocked in typical Euro-Canadian fashion, they assumed that the adults in the home were not providing for their children. 

Additionally, upon seeing the social problems reserve communities faced, such as poverty, unemployment, and addiction, some social workers felt a duty to protect the local children. So, instead of aiding the communities and providing support, they added to that emotional burden.  

In many cases, Indigenous parents who were living in poverty but otherwise providing caring homes had their children taken from them with little or no warning and absolutely no consent.  

It was not until 1980 that the Child, Family and Community Services Act required social workers to notify the band council if a child were removed from the community.

An alarmingly disproportionate number of Métis, Inuit and First Nation children were apprehended from the 1960s onward. By the 1970s, they would number one-third of all children in care. 

Approximately 70% of the children apprehended were placed into non-Aboriginal homes, many of them into homes in which their heritage was denied. In some cases, the foster or adoptive parents told their children that they were now French or Italian instead.

Government policy at the time did not allow birth records to be opened unless both the child and parent consented. This meant that many children suspected their heritage but were unable to have it confirmed.

Many children floated from foster home to foster home or lived in institutionalized care. Physical and sexual abuse was not uncommon, but it was usually covered up, rendered invisible by the lack of social services and support for the families and children, a result of the general social reluctance to publicly acknowledge such abuse at the time. 

The Aboriginal Committee of the Family and Children’s Services Legislation Review Panel’s report Liberating Our Children describes the negative consequences for Aboriginal children:

The homes in which children were placed ranged from those of caring, well-intentioned individuals, to places of slave labour and physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The violent effects of the most negative of these homes are tragic for its victims. 

Even the best of these homes are not healthy places for these children. Anglo-Canadian foster parents are not culturally equipped to create an environment in which a positive self-image can develop. In many cases, our children were taught to demean those things about themselves that are part of their heritage. 

Impacts of the Sixties Scoop

Nunatsiarmiut Mother and Child, Baffin Island, Nunavut
Children growing up in conditions of suppressed identity and abuse tend to experience psychological and emotional problems. 

For many apprehended children, the roots of these problems did not emerge until later in life when they learned about their birth family or their heritage. 

Social work professor Raven Sinclair describes these experiences as creating “tremendous obstacles to the development of a strong and healthy sense of identity for the transracial adoptee.” 

Feelings of not belonging in either mainstream Euro-Canadian society or in Aboriginal society can also create barriers to reaching socio-economic equity.

And yet, we still act surprised.

Several factors came together to instigate a change in the state of Aboriginal child welfare in Canada.  The influential National Indian Brotherhood’s 1972 report Indian Control over Indian Education inspired Aboriginal leaders to take control of other social services as well. 

Some Aboriginal leaders, including Secwepemc leader Wayne Christian, helped draw attention to the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal children apprehended by child welfare services and to the need to act.  

In 1983, the Canadian Council on Social Development commissioned Patrick Johnston to undertake what became the first comprehensive statistical overview of Aboriginal child welfare. The results showed that Aboriginal children were consistently overrepresented in child welfare services.

In 1985, Justice Edwin Kimelman released a highly critical review of this child apprehension entitled No Quiet Place: Review Committee on Indian and Métis Adoptions and Placements. 

In this report, popularly known as The Kimelman Report, Kimelman and his committee, after holding hearings and listening to oral testimony, made 109 recommendations for policy change.  Kimelman concluded that “cultural genocide has taken place in a systematic, routine manner.” 

He was particularly appalled at the tendency to have First Nation, Métis & Inuit children from Canada adopted out to American families, calling it a policy of “wholesale exportation.” Kimelman finished his report by expressing his thoughts on his findings:

An abysmal lack of sensitivity to children and families was revealed. Families approached agencies for help and found that what was described as being in the child’s “best interest” resulted in their families being torn asunder and siblings separated. Social workers grappled with cultural patterns far different from their own with no preparation and no opportunity to gain understanding.

Child apprehension became viewed as the successor to the residential school system and as a new form of “cultural genocide.” 

Under article 2(e) of the U.N. Convention on Genocide (1948), “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” constitutes genocide when the intent is to destroy a culture. 

Many individuals may have acted with the best of intentions but as a Canadian cultural practice, it was genocide.

During the 1980s, the accumulation of the Kimelman report, the Johnston report, and resolutions by First Nations bands led provinces to amend their adoption laws to prioritize prospective adoption placements as follows: first, within the extended family of the child; second, by another Aboriginal family; third, by a non-Aboriginal family.

In 1990, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) created the First Nations Child and Family Services program (FNCFS), which transferred the administration of child and family services from the province or territory to the local band. Under the program, bands administer these services according to provincial or territorial legislation and child welfare standards, and INAC helps fund the bands’ child and family welfare agencies.  

Bands have increasingly taken control over their own child protection services. These services have also undergone some reform, such as expanding resources for single parents and establishing juvenile probation services. 

A Métis Child-Family Services program based in Edmonton is another example of an organization that incorporates traditional values into its adoptive family assessments. In many provinces and territories across Canada, a child is now entitled to know its background, and cultural appropriateness is considered in the assessment and screening of potential caregivers.

What is the Situation Today?

Sadly, the involvement of the child welfare system is no less prolific in the current era…the “Sixties Scoop” has merely evolved into the “Millennium Scoop.” – Sinclair, “Identity lost and found: Lessons from the sixties scoop.”

This overrepresentation continues today. We are now in 2021, looking big-eyed and surprised. Who knew? We knew. We have known for a very long time — and we continue the practice today. 

We know it is wrong and we know we need to act. We know the solution is not separating and destroying families but rather supporting them, supporting communities. 

The time for Truth and Reconciliation is now. It is not something we need to work towards in future. The time for wholesale support of children, families and communities is now. Right now. The time to heal is now. Canada has a chance to show leadership and compassion, a chance to develop systems that work.

Look at the children in your life. Imagine this for them. What would you do? What wouldn't you do? For each of them, let us come together and do better — for everyone.

If you fancy a read, here are some links below for you to explore that provide various lenses on the issue.

Canada. Report on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, Volume 3, Gathering Strength. Chapter 2, “Families.” Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada, 1996. 9-106.

Bennett, Marilyn. “First Nations Fact Sheet: A General Profile on First Nations Child Welfare in Canada.” First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. Available online at:

Blackstock, Cindy, et al. “Keeping the Promise: The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Lived Experiences of First Nations Children and Youth.”  First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, 2004. Available online at:

Fournier, Suzanne and Ernie Crey. Stolen from Our Embrace. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1997.

Mandell, Deena, et al. “Chapter Three: Aboriginal Child Welfare.” In Cameron, Gary, Nick Coady, and Gerald R. Adams, eds. Moving Toward Positive Systems of Child and Family Welfare: Current Issues and Future Directions.  Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007.

Sinclair, Raven. 2007. “Identity lost and found: Lessons from the sixties scoop.” First Peoples Child and Family Review. 3.1 (2007): 65-82. Available online at:

Swidrovich, Cheryl Marlene. “Positive Experiences of First Nations Children in non-Aboriginal Foster or Adoptive Care: De-Constructing the “Sixties Scoop.”  MA Thesis, University of Saskatchewan. 2004. Available online at:

Walmsley, Christopher. Protecting Aboriginal Children.  Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2005.

Photo: A gloriously happy Nunatsiarmiut Mother & Child, Solo Child, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada & Every Child Matters Illustration by the Fossil Huntress

Tuesday, 25 September 2018


This Jurassic ammonite is from an all but inaccessible site in Sayward, Bonanza Group, Vancouver Island.

By the time these ammonites were being buried in sediment, Wrangellia, the predominately volcanic terrane that now forms Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands, had made its way to the northern mid-latitudes.

Within the basal part of the sequence, sedimentary beds are found interbedded with lapilli and crystal-tuffs. They include maroon tuffaceous sandstone, orange-grey sandstone, granule sandstone and conglomerate. Ammonites are found alongside gastropods and pelecypods. The Bonanza group is estimated to be at least 1000 metres thick.

We did a fossil field trip up there a few years ago. The site is quite small and the window to collect was limited so we were keen to see what had been exposed.

The drive up the mountain was thrilling as there had just been heavy rains and the road was washed out and narrowed until it was barely the width of our wheel base and then narrower further to be just shy of the width of the vehicle -- thrilling to say the least.

So scary that my passengers all got out as there was a good chance of going over the edge. I was going by some hand written notes and a wee map on a napkin that should have read, "park at the bottom and hike up," Ah, glorious fossils.

Graham Beard from Qualicum Beach was the fellow who showed me the site and drew the wee map for me. I cannot recall everyone on the trip, but Perry Poon was there (he shot a video of the drive up that he described as thrilling. I've never seen it but would like to one day) and so was Patricia Coutts with her lovely doberman. She and I had just done a trip up to Goldbridge where the cliff we were on had turned into a landslide into a ravine so she was feeling understandably cautious about the power of Mother Nature.

As I recall, I wasn't in my ordinary vehicle but a rental because my car had been stolen the weekend I'd headed to Jurassic Point to visit fossil sites with John Fam and Dan Bowen. Fortuitous really, as they stole my car but I'd unloaded my precious fossil collecting gear out of the trunk the day before.

Picture the angle, the hood of my jeep riding high and hiding what remained of the road beneath and a lovely stick shift that made you roll backwards a wee bit with every move to put it into gear. So, without being able to see the very narrow path beneath, I had to just keep going.

Both Perry and Patricia helped with filling in the pot holes so my tires would have something to grip. I bent the frame on the jeep heading up and had some explaining to do when I returned it to the car rental place.

The Memekay site yielded a mix of ammonites, gastropods and bivalves. Many of them poorly preserved.

Once up, I had to drive the whole thing again back down. Solo, as no one wanted to chance it. But well worth the effort as we found some great fossils and with them more information on the paleontology and geology of Vancouver Island.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Saturday, 22 September 2018


The evolution of fish began about 530 million years ago with the first fish lineages belonged to the Agnatha, a superclass of jawless fish. We still see them in our waters as cyclostomes but have lost the conodonts and ostracoderms to the annals of time. Like all vertebrates, fish have bilateral symmetry; when divided down the middle or central axis, each half is the same. Organisms with bilateral symmetry are generally more agile, making finding a mate, hunting or avoiding being hunted a whole lot easier.

When we envision fish, we generally picture large eyes, gills, a well-developed mouth. The earliest animals that we classify as fish appeared as soft-bodied chordates who lacked a true spine. While they were spineless, they did have notochords, a cartilaginous skeletal rod that gave them more dexterity than the cold-blooded invertebrates who shared those ancient seas and evolved without a backbone. Fish would continue to evolve throughout the Paleozoic, diversifying into a wide range of forms. Several forms of Paleozoic fish developed external armour that protected them from predators. The first fish with jaws appeared in the Silurian period, after which many species, including sharks, became formidable marine predators rather than just the prey of arthropods.

Fishes in general respire using gills, are most often covered with bony scales and propel themselves using fins. There are two main types of fins, median fins and paired fins. The median fins include the caudal fin or tail fin, the dorsal fin, and the anal fin. Now there may be more than one dorsal, and one anal fin in some fishes.

The paired fins include the pectoral fins and the pelvic fins. And these paired fins are connected to, and supported by, pectoral and pelvic girdles, at the shoulder and hip; in the same way, our arms and legs are connected to and supported by, pectoral and pelvic girdles. This arrangement is something we inherited from the ancestors we share with fishes. They are homologous structures.

When we speak of early vertebrates, we're often talking about fishes. Fish is a term we use a lot in our everyday lives but taxonomically it is not all that useful. When we say, 'fish' we generally mean an ectothermic, aquatic vertebrate with gills and fins.

Fortunately, many of our fishy friends have ended up in the fossil record. We may see some of the soft bits from time to time, as in the lovely fossil fish found in concretion in Brazil, but we often see fish skeletons. Vertebrates with hard skeletons had a much better chance of being preserved. In British Columbia, we have lovely two-dimensional Eocene fossil fish well-represented from the Allenby of Princeton and the McAbee Fossil Beds. We have the Tiktaalik roseae, a large freshwater fish, from 375 million-year-old Devonian deposits on Ellesmere Island in Canada's Arctic. Tiktaalik is a wonderfully bizarre creature with a flat, almost reptilian head but also fins, scales and gills. We have other wonders from this time. There are also spectacular antiarch placoderms, Bothriolepsis, found in the Upper Devonian shales of Miguasha in Quebec.

There are fragments of bone-like tissues from as early as the Late Cambrian with the oldest fossils that are truly recognizable as fishes come from the Middle Ordovician from North America, South America and Australia. At the time, South America and Australia were part of a supercontinent called Gondwana. North America was part of another supercontinent called Laurentia and the two were separated by deep oceans.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Thursday, 20 September 2018


Graptolites (Graptolita) are colonial animals. The biological affinities of the graptolites have always been debatable. Originally regarded as being related to the hydrozoans, graptolites are now considered to be related to the pterobranchs, a rare group of modern marine animals.

The graptolites are now classed as hemichordates (phylum Hemichordata), a primitive group which probably shares a common ancestry with the vertebrates.

In life, many graptolites appear to have been planktonic, drifting freely on the surface of ancient seas or attached to floating seaweed by means of a slender thread. Some forms of graptolite lived attached to the sea-floor by a root-like base. Graptolite fossils are often found in shales and slates. The deceased planktonic graptolites would sink down to and settle on the sea floor, eventually becoming entombed in the sediment and are thus well preserved.

Graptolite fossils are found flattened along the bedding plane of the rocks in which they occur. They vary in shape, but are most commonly dendritic or branching (such as Dictoyonema), saw-blade like, or "tuning fork" shaped, such as Didymograptus murchisoni.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Sunday, 16 September 2018


Diablo Lake is a reservoir in the North Cascade mountains of northern Washington state

Sunday, 2 September 2018


High up in the Canadian Rockies in an area known as Burgess Pass is one of the most unlikely, perfect and improbable fossil sites on Earth. The Burgess Shale sits high up on the glacier-carved cliffs of the Canadian Rockies.

The fine-grained shales from the Burgess were once part of the ancient landmass known as Laurentia, the ancient geologic core of the North American continent, and are home to some of the most diverse and well-preserved fossils in the world. The sedimentary shales here contain fossils that open a window to marine life some 508 million years ago.

The site is made up of a few quarries and includes the Stephen Formation (Mount Wapta and Mount Field) and the upper Walcott quarry with its Phyllopod Bed. There is also a lower quarry named for Professor Piercy Raymond who opened the site in 1924.

It is one of the rare locations in the world where both soft tissues and hard body parts have been fossilized amidst the layers of black shale that form Fossil Ridge and the surrounding areas.
Discovered 109-years ago in 1909 by Charles D. Walcott, the site has continued to wow scientists and the community at large year after year. Charles was in Canada after losing his first wife to a train crash in Connecticut. He met Mary Morris Vaux, an amateur naturalist from a wealthy family and this new love and her interest in the wilds of Canada had brought him back.

Walcott was a geologist, paleontologist and administrator of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, USA. He was an expert in Cambrian fossils for his time. A company man, he joined the US Geological Survey in 1879 and rose to become a director in 1894.  He served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1923 and was an advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Picture the world at this time. Coca-Cola sold their first soft drink, in Germany, Wilhelm Roentgen developed the first x-ray and it was a year before the United States Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" public facilities for whites and blacks ought to be legal.

So, up and coming Walcott was up exploring in the Rockies and stopped to rest his horse. Always a rock man, he had his hammer handy and split some likely blocks. They contained trilobites and other arthropods now famous from the site.

While he recognized the significance of the site, it wasn’t until 1960 through the work of Alberot Simonella and others that the Burgess received the scientific attention it deserved.

In 1967, Harry Whittington initiated the Cambridge Project to re-open the Burgess files and build on the work of his predecessors. He brought two grad students on board to do the heavy lifting as a means to publish or perish. Simon Conway Morris (Worms) and Derek Briggs (Arthropods) completed the trio and together they formed the foundation of what was to become some of the most significant work of our time.

Imagine the first paleontologists working on these weird and wonderful specimens. Wondering at the strange and unlikely creatures made real before their eyes. It is a rare and exquisite thing to see soft-bodied organisms fossilized.

Every year, a new species or magnificent specimen is unearthed. In 2011, a hiker discovered a rare fossil of Ovatiovemis, a genus of filter-feeding lobopodians. Picture a marine worm with nine arms waving to you. Yep, that’s him. The specimen she found is now described as Ovatiovermis cribratus and is one of only two known specimens of Oviatiovermis from the Burgess.

This important site in the Canadian Rockies has been awarded protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1981) in recognition of the exceptional fossil preservation and diversity of the species found here.

With countless hours of research and study, we now know the Burgess Shale contains the best record we have of Cambrian animal fossils. It reveals the most complete record of creatures that proliferated the Earth showcasing the Cambrian explosion 545 to 525 million years ago.

It was a time of oceanic life in all it's splendor. The land may habe been inhospitable, barren and uninhabited but our oceans were teeming with new species. Great soft fine-grained mudslides slid onto an ecosystem in a deep-water basin.

Millions of years later, this unlikely event was revealed to us through the fossils preserved at Burgess.

Saturday, 1 September 2018