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Indian Child Caravan – Remembering the Thanksgiving direct action of 1980

Indian Child Caravan – Remembering the Thanksgiving direct action of 1980

This past Thanksgiving weekend marked the 33rd anniversary of the Indian Child Caravan, a direct action highlighting the devastating impacts of the growing child welfare industry on First Nation children living on reserves. An archive with videos, articles and photos from the Indian Child Caravan has been compiled by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UCBIC) and is available here:

Hundreds took part in the Indian Child Caravan. Led by the citizens of the Splatsin of the Secwepemc Nation (formerly the Spallumcheen Indian Band), an interior Salish speaking First Nation, the Indian Child Caravan travelled through several communities before arriving in Vancouver and converging on the home of the BC Minister of Social Services, Grace McCarthy. As one Grandmother participating in the Indian Child Caravan put it:

"I come to say that on behalf of my Nation, we have had just about enough of what is happening to us. They stole our land, they stole our culture, they stole our language and now they’re stealing our children. I come to tell her [Minister McCarthy] this has to stop…"

Spallumcheen, with a population of 300, saw an alarming 150 children apprehended by BC’s child welfare authorities between 1960 and 1980. In response, the community passed the Spallumcheen Child Welfare Bylaw, giving it exclusive jurisdiction to provide child welfare services on reserve without provincial interference. Following the pressure exerted by the Thanksgiving direct action, Spalumcheen and the provincial and federal governments entered into an agreement for the return of children to the reserve and for funding of Spallumcheen’s Child Welfare Bylaw.  Spallumcheen, by enacting the Child Welfare Bylaw “has gone further than any other [First Nation] in gaining legal control over its child welfare services”. However, the federal government has blocked other First Nations from enacting their own child welfare laws. Rather, the trend in recent decades has been to delegate authority under provincial child welfare legislation to Aboriginal Child and Family Services, which continues to legitimize Canadian law and undermine Indigenous law.

The child welfare industry in BC and across Canada was responsible for the 60s Scoop, during which thousands of First Nation children were forcibly removed off reserve from their families and placed into non-Indigenous foster care homes and adoption. Class actions lawsuits by 60s Scoop survivors have been launched against the Canadian government in several provinces. Then and now, many see Canada’s child welfare industry to be the continuation of cultural genocide, which began with the residential schools. See, for example, the 1980 interview with Spallumcheen Chief and organizer of the Indian Child Caravan Wayne Christian, then 26 and a CAS survivor, UBCIC's George Manuel and Minister McCarthy:

For Metis children and families, the destructive impacts of the child welfare industry were equally felt. Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin tells one such story in the 1986 National Film Board documentary Richard Cardinal: Cry from the Diary of a Metis Child: 



1. Indian Child Caravan Digital Collection

2. Splatsin of the Secwepemc Nation

3. Canadian Child Welfare Law in Canada: Children, Families and the State (2004, 2nd edition)

4. Sixties Scoop Class Action Lawsuit

5. Richard Cardinal: Cry from the Diary of a Metis Child

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Topics: Indigenous

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