Saturday, August 8, 2009

Natives who went to Day Schools want compensation

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Canadian Parliament apologized to First Nations people for the abuse they suffered at residential schools the people who went to day school (i.e. they went home for the night) were excluded.

Mr. Harper said "The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language."

The people who went to day school say they suffered the same kind of abuse and are suing the government for compensation. Gary McLean, for example, says when he was 7 years old and could not speak English, he was often punished for speaking Ojibwa. He also claims that he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a nun until he left the school in 1965.

One student says he had his mouth washed out with soap every time he spoke his own language, says Mason, who is chairman of Spirit Wind Survivors.

If the consequences of destroying people's culture were, in the words of Mr. Harper, "profoundly negative" why were those who went to day schools with the same kind of policies of ethnocide treated differently? Was the apology insincere?

There were about 70,000 aboriginal children across Canada who went home for the night. Now the survivors will sue if the government refuses to negotiate a settlement. If that turns out to be the case they are hoping that their suit will be accepted as a class action suit.

Joan Jack, the lawyer representing day school survivors, says those who went home should be treated the same as students who were kept in residence away from their families. "Whether you went to a school where you slept at night or you went home at night is not relevant to you ending up not being able to speak your language, feeling ashamed of who you are, being abused spiritually. People want to be able to feel that they belong here, that this is our country. We are the indigenous people of this country and Canada is slowly waking up to that fact." The $15 billion the lawsuit is seeking in damages is based on the ratio sought by residential school survivors in their claim, she says.

So far the Government of Canada has not responded and unless it does the Day School survivors will have to sue. Although the group doesn't have a lot of money, Mason says the fight won't stop until the federal government acknowledges the day school residents.