In 2012, Chief Shane Gottfriedson of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and Chief Glenn Feschuk of the shíshálh Nation launched the Day Scholars Class Action lawsuit. Day scholars were the students who attended residential schools but went home every night. These students never received any compensation for the pain they endured while attending residential school.
The case wanted compensation for the day scholars and declarations regarding Canada’s role in the failure to protect Aboriginal language and culture. The lawsuit also sought compensation for the children of the survivors and the band to which survivors belong. Three years later, on June 3, 2015, one day after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, the federal court in Vancouver certified the class action lawsuit.
“I am very thankful for the bravery and hard work of those band members who put themselves forward to act as representatives in this law suit,” Chief Shane Gottfriedson said, “While the decision today is just one step towards finally receiving justice, it is a very important one. We have much more work to do in the future, but for today we can reflect that the journey towards reconciliation has taken on more significant step.”
Jo-Anne Gottfriedson did a research project to see how many members were affected by the day scholars being left out and investigated impacts within the community. She was at the Federal court on June 3 when the decision was announced. “When we phoned home and told them the news, I mean our plaintiffs were crying.”
In 2008, the Prime Minister apologized to the residential school survivors who lived in the schools and put together a $4 billion dollar compensation package. The day scholars received neither an apology nor a penny in compensation. They had suffered the same sadistic discipline, the spankings, public humiliation, beatings, physical and sexual abuse, and the constant reminder that speaking their own language was a punishable offence. Yet they were left out.
“The day scholars were overlooked during the Residential School negotiations,” Jo-Ann Gottfriedson said. “At first everyone was included at the beginning table. Then both the AFN and Canada agreed to drop and leave the day scholars because we did not ‘live’ at the residences, even though we still endured the same abuses.” Peter Grant, the attorney for the plaintiffs has said that “culture was eradicated in the same way for day scholars as those who lived in school. The harm goes deeper than abuse. As Prime Minister Harper said in the apology, the legacy of the residential schools is one of the loss of entire cultures. Language is no longer spoken; people are broken and unable to celebrate their heritage. These deeper harms affect all Aboriginal children, not just those who were in residence, all of those who were in the schools.”
The Tk’emlup te Secwepemc have 115 day scholars still living. There were 147 Residential schools with students from 200 First Nation Bands across Canada. Without doing a census it is hard to accurately determine the total number of day scholars still living, but an informed guess would be in the thousands. If the trial leads to a settlement, it would benefit all day scholar survivors across Canada.
One can be optimistic about the outcome of the trial, because justice is long overdue and there is national support for the day scholars. “We have received great political support from Native leaders across the country,” Gary Feschuk said, “as well as the National and Regional Chiefs and many of the First Nation political organizations.”
Since the Truth and Reconciliation Report, knowledge about the dark side of residential schools has been made public. “Cultural Genocide” was the term in the report used to describe the damage done by the schools, and non-Native people who weren’t aware of what happened are now seeing the big picture. The judge who certified the lawsuit suggested a mediated settlement. “We will try a court-ordered mediated settlement,” Gary Feschuk said, “and if it doesn’t work, we’ll go to trial. We have anticipated that if this goes to trial, it will take up to 4 years.”