Court in Winnipeg: Residential School Survivors Speak Out
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Sent: Monday, October 02, 2006 7:51 PM
Subject: Court in Winnipeg: Residential School Survivors Speak Out
Monday, October 2nd, 2006
Residential school survivors speak out
Mon Oct 2 2006
By Alexandra Paul
HUNDREDS of aboriginal people who were forced into Indian residential schools in the 1900s will have their say in court this week on a $1.9-billion federal settlement.
Hearings, to run over two days in Manitoba provincial court Oct. 5 and 6, are part of the residential schools deal approved by Ottawa.
The court hearings are the last chance for former students to object to the deal. If enough of them do, the courts have the authority to kill the agreement before payments go out in the mail, likely next spring.
"This is where survivors can go to the court and speak or have their lawyers speak for them," said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs residential school co-ordinator Jennifer Wood.
Wood, a residential school survivor, said she'll be attending both days and she expects the court to be crowded with others like her.
"From what I hear, everybody wants to come. We could have so many people, they'll have to stand outside (the courtroom)," Wood said.
The payments, which average $24,000 per student, are being called common-experience payments. This is because anyone who was forced into the residential federally funded, church-run industrial schools is entitled to compensation for the loss of their aboriginal language, culture and family ties.
Under the deal, every student is entitled to a $10,000 basic payment plus $3,000 for every year they were there.
The schools were the beachhead of an aggressive federal assimilation policy to teach aboriginal children the English language and have them adopt Christianity and Canadian customs.
Children were severely punished for speaking aboriginal languages or practising traditional aboriginal customs and aspects of their culture. Residential schools have been blamed for contributing to the legacy of suicides, addictions and family violence that plagues First Nation communities to this day.
Hundreds of students endured sexual, physical and psychological abuse in the schools. A separate fund of $1.8 billion is set aside for abuse claims.
In the meantime, advance payments of $8,000 are being paid now to those 65 and older, regardless of the courts' decision on the final payments.
Ottawa decided to make advance payments this spring on compassionate grounds after learning that five to seven survivors every day die in Canada of old age without seeing a penny of compensation.
Under the terms of the agreement, Canada's courts have the authority to kill the deal if judges find that 5,000 of the estimated 80,000 surviving students in Canada object to it.
Nobody in Manitoba expects the deal to die.
"The reason this is attractive is this is not an intimidating experience. There's no court hearing (where people will be cross-examined) and they don't have to be questioned by a judge," Wood said.
Manitoba's AMC is the only First Nations organization to hire a co-ordinator specifically to deal with the residential school issues. Wood's job is to help survivors of the schools fill out complicated applications for the payments.
In Manitoba, there are an estimated 5,500 adults, many in their 60s and 70s, who were forced into 14 schools scattered from Brandon to Winnipeg and north to The Pas.
By the 1930s, at the peak of the residential school system, there were 80,000 children who were forced to attend the schools that existed in every province except Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
© 2006 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.
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