Former students who attended residential schools during daytime hours and their children have been recognized for the harms they experienced in a proposed settlement agreement after a 14-year legal battle.
The agreement, which will have to be approved by the Federal Court, proposes $10,000 for each eligible day scholar as well as $50-million for a Day Scholars Revitalization Fund, designed to support healing as well as the reclaiming of language and culture.
All day scholars who were alive as of May 30, 2005, are included in the settlement. In cases where a day scholar has died since that date, their families or estates will be able to apply on their behalf.
Survivors and descendants of students who went to residential schools but returned home in the evening were left out of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which represented a consensus reached between legal counsel for former students of the schools, legal counsel for the churches, Indigenous organizations and the Government of Canada.
Day scholars were later able to seek compensation for physical and sexual abuse that they suffered while attending the schools, but not for the experience of attending the institutions, because they returned to their homes at night. They said they were unjustly excluded from that agreement and the proposed settlement means harms suffered by day scholars and their children are finally being acknowledged.
The details of the agreement were announced on Wednesday at a news conference with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and representative plaintiffs of a class-action lawsuit.
“That harm is what is being recognized today,” Ms. Bennett said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “Just by attending these schools, harm was done and the harm is still being done in the intergenerational trauma amongst the descendants and communities.”
Charlotte Gilbert, a day scholar and a representative plaintiff, said Wednesday it has been a long and painful process to reach this stage. She described the court process as having to relive and regurgitate the same trauma that she and other students endured.
“We were children,” she said.
Before compensation can begin, the Federal Court must first determine if the settlement is fair, reasonable and in the best interests of class members. A settlement approval hearing is scheduled to begin this September.
Until Aug. 21, class members will be able to review the proposed settlement and provide their comments to the court on paper, Ms. Bennett said. The process will be opened to all individuals who might be eligible, she added, noting that Ottawa believes that is “thousands.”
Rita Poulsen, a representative plaintiff for the litigation’s descendant class, said Wednesday that no lawsuit will change what happened to her father and to his children. She said she hopes the settlement will facilitate a path toward healing and the revitalization of languages and cultures.
Diena Jules, a former student of the Kamloops Indian Residential School and a representative plaintiff for the survivor class, said she suffered greatly while attending the school, including the loss of her language, culture pride and identity.
The signing of the agreement is a recognition of that suffering experienced by the day scholars, Ms. Bennett said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it has a been a long and painful fight for survivors. He also said that his party is glad an agreement has been reached but a judge will determine if it is a fair settlement.
Jamie Schmale, the Conservative critic for Crown-Indigenous Relations, called the settlement agreement a positive step toward reconciliation. He said that work cannot end here and stressed the need for the government to adequately respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s specific calls to action, which pertain to children who went missing from residential schools and burial information.
Ottawa has faced increased political pressure to do more after the announcement almost two weeks ago from Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation of the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
Last week, Ms. Bennett announced that $27-million would be distributed on an urgent basis to assist Indigenous communities to locate and identify missing children.
The federal government said Wednesday that over the past several months it has been engaged with counsel for the plaintiffs for the day scholars and their descendants for a resolution. Ms. Bennett said Ottawa strives to resolve Indigenous claims to live up to the government’s commitment to reconciliation, especially those involving children, outside the courts wherever possible.
In 2019, when Jody Wilson-Raybould was justice minister, the Liberal government issued a directive on civil litigation involving Indigenous peoples, which included a core theme to promote “resolution and settlement, and seeks opportunities to narrow or avoid potential litigation.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould, now an Independent MP, said last week on Twitter that the release of that directive was important and she called upon the federal government to reread it. In addition, she said Ottawa should stop fighting First Nations children in court.
On Monday, Ms. Wilson-Raybould and 270 other MPs from all political stripes voted in favour of an NDP motion that included calls for Ottawa to drop judicial reviews of two orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on discrimination of Indigenous children. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet abstained from voting.
Since the passage of this non-binding motion, the federal government has not given any indication that it will be ending its legal efforts in Federal Court. Proceedings on this issue are scheduled for next week.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said Wednesday that Ottawa will compensate First Nations children in a fair and equitable fashion. He also said there is not a single order “that any tribunal in the country can issue that will completely fix the system.” Communities will exercise their own jurisdiction and self-determination, he added.
The number for the National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is 1-866-925-4419. British Columbia has a First Nations and Indigenous Crisis Line offered through the KUU-US Crisis Line Society, toll-free at 1-800-588-8717.
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