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Abuse at Native residential schools in Canada

Government apology & compensation.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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Government apology:

According to Wikipedia:

"In 1998, the [federal] government made a Statement of Reconciliation including an apology to those people who were sexually or physically abused while attending residential schools and established the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. The Foundation was provided $350 million to fund community-based healing projects focusing on addressing the legacy of Indian residential schools. In its 2005 budget, the government committed an additional $40 million to continue to support the work of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation." 1

In mid-1999, the federal government decided to try an alternate method of resolving lawsuits by individual ex-students. They sought a series of out-of-court group settlements. Each of these might include all of the students abused at a single school, or all of the victims who live in a given community. Shawn Tupper, Senior Advisor with the Indian Affairs Department, said: "We are looking for groups with shared interests." 

As of 2000-APR-14, the federal government was faced with close to 7,000 claims. Most allege abuse at schools run by Roman Catholic or Anglican groups.

"There are approximately 350 claims against The United Church of Canada. In most cases the United Church is named as a co-defendant with the federal government. As well, principals and former workers in the schools are sometimes named as defendants. Some of the claims name specific acts of sexual and/or physical abuse. The larger number of claims focus mainly on loss of language and culture as a result of the residential school experience...The Presbyterian Church, which was involved in two schools following 1925, has a fewer...claims." 2 

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Government compensation package:

According to Wikipedia, on 2005-NOV-23:

"... the Canadian government announced a $1.9 billion compensation package to benefit tens of thousands of survivors of abuse at native residential schools. National Chief Phil Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations said the package covers, 'decades in time, innumerable events and countless injuries to First Nations individuals and communities.' Justice Minister Irwin Cotler called the decision to house young Canadians in church-run residential schools 'the single most harmful, disgraceful and racist act in our history.' At a news conference in Ottawa, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said: 'We have made good on our shared resolve to deliver what I firmly believe will be a fair and lasting resolution of the Indian school legacy'."

"The Settlement Agreement in May 2006. ... [proposed], among other things, some funding for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, for commemoration, and for a "Truth and Reconciliation" program in Aboriginal communities, as well as an individual Common Experience Payment (CEP). Any person that can be verified as attending a federally run Indian residential school in Canada is entitled to this Common Experience Payment. The amount of compensation is based on the number of years attended by a particular former student of residential schools: $10,000 for the first year attended plus $3,000 for every year attended thereafter."

"The Settlement Agreement also proposed an advance payment for former students alive and who are 65 years old and over as of 2005-MAY-30. The eligible former students had to fill out the advance payment form available for download on the IRSRC web site to receive $8,000 that was deducted from the Common Experience Payment. The deadline for reception of the advance payment form by IRSRC was 2006-DEC-31."

"Following a legal process including an examination of the Settlement Agreement by the courts of the provinces and territories of Canada, an 'opt-out' period occurred. During this time, the former students of residential schools could reject the agreement if they did not agree with its dispositions. This opt-out period ended on 2007-AUG-20." 1

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Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) around the world:

1995: The first Commission of this type was established by President Nelson Mandela in South Africa after apartheid was abolished in South Africa and replaced by a democracy. It was chaired by Desmond Tutu. Witnesses gave statements about their experiences suffering from gross human rights violations. Perpetrators of violence were also allowed to testify about their abusive activities and request amnesty from civil and criminal prosecution. 3,4

Although the South African TRC is generally regarded as having been very successful at helping heal wounds suffered by the victims, it has received some criticism. For example Jane Taylor, who wrote the play: "Ubu and the Truth Commission" said:

"The TRC is unquestionably a monumental process, the consequences of which will take years to unravel. For all its pervasive weight, however, it infiltrates our culture asymmetrically, unevenly across multiple sectors. Its place in small rural communities, for example, when it establishes itself in a local church hall, and absorbs substantial numbers of the population, is very different from its situation in large urban centres, where its presence is marginalised by other social and economic activities." 5

Similar Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been held in 26 other countries, from Argentina to Ukraine by 2014. 6

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The Canadian TRC:

The process that led to the establishment of the TRC began with a group of former residential school students who sued the federal government and the denominations involved in the IRS. This was the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history. It produced the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Former students were given financial compensation for the abuse that they suffered. Also arising from the Settlement was the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The Commission was formed to:

"... provide those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential School system with an opportunity to share their stories and/or experiences. 7

Its mandate was described in the IRS Settlement Agreement in 2006. 8 Its main purpose is to inform Canadians about the physical, sexual, spiritual, and cultural abuse perpetrated within Indian Residential Schools (IRS) by the Christian denominations responsible for running the schools and by the federal government who funded the schools with minimal oversight.

The denominations involved were the Anglican Church of Canada, the Methodist Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Roman Catholic Church, and the United Church of Canada. Between 1857 and 1996, more than 150,000 First Nation, Métis and Inuit children attended more than 130 schools across Canada during parts of these fourteen decades. There are believed to be about 80,000 former students still alive.

The Commission held seven national events in various regions across the country. Health Canada provided professional counseling, Resolution Health Support Workers and Elder support at all TRC events. The last event was in Edmonton, AB, which closed on 2014-MAR-30. The next major task of the Commission is to write its report.

The Commission also supports the Missing Children Research Project to document the number of deaths, the cause of deaths, and the disappearances of children.

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References used:

  1. "Canadian Indian residential school system," Wikipedia, 2009-MAR-15, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. "Residential schools update," 2001-APR-14, United Church of Canada, at: http://www.uccan.org/
  3. "Truth and reconciliation commission," Wikipedia, as on 2014-JAN-14, at:
  4. "Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa)," Wikipedia, as on 2014-MAR-13, at:http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. Book cover imageJane Taylor, "UBU and the Truth Commission," Act Five, University of Capetown Press, (1998). Previewed at: http://books.google.ca/
  6. "Truth and reconciliation commission," Wikipedia, as on 2014-JAN-14, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  7. "Truth and Reconciliation Commission," Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2010-SEP-15, at: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/
  8. "Our Mandate," Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, undated, at: http://www.trc-cvr.ca/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUN-03
Latest update: 2014-MAR-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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