20,000 Survivors of Residential Schools to Seek Compensation

By Rick Mofina

At least 20,000 survivors of Indian residential schools who are not involved in legal action will be quietly pressing the government for compensation, according to Canada’s top native leader.

Matthew Coon Come, chief of the Assembly of First Nations, says the AFN has been researching the issue and is confident that 20,000 to 60,000 people not involved in court actions have unsettled issues arising from the residential school system.

These concerns include such things as the damage done to families, identities and native culture that have yet to be addressed, Mr. Coon Come said yesterday before AFN officials met privately with Deputy Prime Minister Herb Gray.

Mr. Gray was appointed last year by Prime Minister Jean Chretien to address critical issues on residential school litigation, in particular, concerns by some leading churches, which face financial ruin over lawsuits from school survivors. The most recent figures show that more than 6,200 individuals who claim to have been victimized within the residential system have unsettled lawsuits. That number could near 10,000 should several class-action suits now pending be accepted by the courts.

Mr. Coon Come said those cases deal with “criminal aspects like sexual abuse.” But for others, “there’s the whole question of loss of language, loss of culture. How do you put that into the picture in order for one to feel that their issues are addressed?” Mr. Coon Come said.

At its Confederacy of Nations meeting last month, the AFN, which represents some 630 First Nations, set out a plan to present the government with a comprehensive settlement strategy on residential schools.

Mr. Coon Come said the government’s Japanese-Canadian compensation model is one that could be adapted and used for residential schools.

During the Second World War, 22,000 Japanese-Canadians were rounded up and detained, victims of racial paranoia following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. In 1988, the federal government apologized for its actions and promised $21,000 to 12,000 of the surviving internees.

Mr. Coon Come sees some parallels with that action and how native children were taken from their homes and placed in residential schools.

Pressure has been growing on several fronts over how best to resolve the controversial issue of abuse suffered by native children in residential schools, which were established more than a century ago by the federal government and administered by church groups.

The aim of the system, which was phased out in the 1960s, was to assimilate aboriginal children into mainstream culture. After the closures, stories of students being subjected to physical and sexual abuse in the schools began emerging.