A Federal Court judge has approved a $2.8-billion settlement agreement between the Canadian government and plaintiffs representing 325 First Nations whose members went to residential day schools.
Justice Ann Marie McDonald said in her ruling issued Thursday that the settlement is intended to help take steps to reverse the losses of language, culture and heritage through an Indigenous-led not-for-profit body.
“This settlement is historic both in terms of the quantum of the settlement and its unique structure,” Justice McDonald said.
“As Canada remarked, the $2.8-billion settlement is not intended to put a value on the losses suffered by the Band Class members, as that is an impossible task.”
She called the agreement “historic” and “transformational,” adding that the settlement does not release the federal government from future lawsuits related to children who died or disappeared at residential schools.
“I am satisfied that the settlement is fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of Band Class members. The Settlement Agreement is therefore approved,” Justice McDonald said.
The federal government originally reached the settlement with the plaintiffs in January, but the Federal Court also needed to approve the agreement.
The lawsuit was originally brought forth by two B.C. First Nations, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc, and the shishalh, more than a decade ago, for members who were ineligible for the 2006 settlement reached between Canada and full-time students at the schools.
Former Tk’emlups te Secwepemc chief Shane Gottfriedson spoke in February at the settlement approval hearing in Vancouver.
Mr. Gottfriedson, one of the original plaintiffs in the case, told Justice McDonald that reaching the settlement with the federal government “means everything” to him and that it was “about time Canada steps aside” and let First Nations themselves decide how to recover from the residential schools program.
The settlement now goes into an appeal period, after which the money would be transferred to a not-for-profit fund managed by a board of Indigenous leaders.
Affected Indigenous communities will each get to decide what to do with their settlement funds, based on the “four pillars” principles outlined in the agreement: the revival and protection of Indigenous language; the revival and protection of Indigenous culture; the protection and promotion of heritage; and the wellness of Indigenous communities and their members.
Justice McDonald’s decision also said that the funds and their proceeds cannot be used to fund individuals or commercial ventures, be used as collateral to secure loans or as a guarantee.