January 23, 2020

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Day-school survivors still seeking justice

“We want to do the right thing by everybody who suffered by these terrible government policies,” Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told the Free Press. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)</p>

“We want to do the right thing by everybody who suffered by these terrible government policies,” Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told the Free Press. (Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press files)

OTTAWA — Thousands of Indigenous Manitobans have become eligible for payments to compensate them for abuse they suffered in day schools; while thousands of others have been left out because of a jurisdictional issue.

The federal Liberals settled a class-action lawsuit involving Indian Day Schools last August. As of today, survivors can apply for compensation, but the limited eligibility means a decades-long quest for justice is hardly over.

"We have to start by starting," Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett told the Free Press.

"We want to do the right thing by everybody who suffered by these terrible government policies."

An estimated 120,000 to 140,000 people will be eligible for compensation as a result of a push by Manitobans who suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

Ottawa ran day schools in 59+ Manitoba communities

The federal government oversaw day schools in at least 59 Manitoba towns and reserves. They operated from 1874 to 1995, though they were only under Ottawa’s jurisdiction starting around the 1920s.

The federal government oversaw day schools in at least 59 Manitoba towns and reserves. They operated from 1874 to 1995, though they were only under Ottawa’s jurisdiction starting around the 1920s.

There were about a hundred schools in Manitoba, but many closed or relocated within the same community over the decades. Some of the most day schools in Manitoba were never run by Ottawa’ leaving those students out of the compensation that starts this week.

Below is a list of communities that had a school, which at one point, fell under Ottawa’s authority.

Angusville/Rossburn

Berens River

Birdtail Sioux reserve (Uno)

Bloodvein reserve

Camperville

Cedar Lake

Churchill

Clearwater

Cross Lake reserve

Dallas/Jackhead Harbour

Dauphin River reserve (Gypsumville)

Easterville

Ebb and Flow reserve

FairfordFisher River reserve (Koostatak)

Garden Hill

God’s Lake

God’s River

Grand Rapids

Granville Lake

Griswold

Lac Brochet reserve

Lake Manitoba reserve

Lake St. Martin reserve (Gypsumville)

Little Black River

Little Grand Rapids

Little Saskatchewan reserve (Gypsumville)

Long Plain reserve (Edwin)

Nelson House reserve

Norway House/Jack River reserve

Oak Lake Sioux

Oak River reserve, (Griswold, Portage la Prairie)

Oxford House reserve

Pauingassi reserve

Peguis reserve

Pine Bluff reserve

Poplar River (Negginan)

Pukatawagan

Red Sucker Lake

Rolling River reserve

Roseau Rapids reserve,

Roseau River reserve (Letellier, Dominion City)

Sagkeeng/Fort Alexander reserve

Sandy Bar reserve (Marius)

Shamattawa

Shoal River reserve (Pelican Rapids)

Split Lake (Split River)

St. Peter’s Reserve (Selkirk)

St. Theresa Point/Massinacap reserve

Swan Lake reserve

Tadoule Lake

The Pas

Valley River reserve

VogarWanipigow

Waterhen (River) reserve

Waywayseecappo (Lizard Point)

York Factory reserve

York Landing

These survivors of Indian Day Schools were not included in the 2007 settlement for residential school students. Students at day schools often returned home in the evenings. Many experienced similar discipline, sometimes in the same building as residential school students.

"They were abused. They were sodomized, raped; you name it," said Ray Mason, a member of Peguis First Nation who has spent three decades pushing for recognition and compensation.

Mason remembers being whipped with a strap and forced to clean floors with a toothbrush. The day schools often focused more on discipline than learning.

"It’s horrendous, what went on in those schools," he said.

Garry McLean of Lake Manitoba First Nation was the main plaintiff in the class-action suit when it was filed in Winnipeg in 2009. McLean, who died last year, suffered sexual and physical abuse during five years in day schools, and went on to become a key figure in First Nations politics.

Ottawa believes about 200,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children attended day schools that were under federal jurisdiction.

Depending on the harm they suffered, former students may be eligible for payments ranging from $10,000 to $200,000. It’s not known how much compensation in total will be paid, or how many people will file a claim. Survivors will be required to submit claims in writing and have them assessed by a third-party administrator.

Bennett said the process takes into consideration survivors’ demands. They wanted to avoid the trauma experienced by residential school students who had to testify in person. Their compensation was based on a points system that ranked physical abuse and molestation.

Mason, who has supported survivors since 1988 with the group Spirit Wind, said he’ll be monitoring the process to make sure claimants, who have limited literacy skills or access to technology, don’t get overlooked.

The deadline for submitting claims is July 2022.

The settlement includes a $200-million commemoration fund for events, counselling and projects to restore languages and cultures, channelled through an independent non-profit.

"We are very interested in making sure that no one is left out, and that anybody who deserves compensation will be able to achieve that. We always felt that it was better to negotiate than litigate." — Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett

The compensation program only applies to schools that operated under Ottawa’s control. Provincial governments and churches ran many day schools in places such as Teulon, in the Interlake, and Cranberry Portage, in northern Manitoba. Students experienced similar trauma in those schools, but legally it didn’t happen on Ottawa’s watch.

"To me that’s a feeble, ludicrous excuse to weasel out of their responsibilities," said Mason, who noted federal workers were often the ones to put kids in church-run schools, despite the federal government being required, under the Constitution, to keep Indigenous people from harm.

Mason, who is First Nations, is particularly concerned for Métis and Inuit. "It’s leaving out a lot of people," he said, noting that many have died.

Day-school students have filed at least two other class-action lawsuits that have not been settled — one of which Mason is involved in— and there are other lawsuits involving urban boarding schools. Bennett said the Liberals intend to resolve all such cases.

"We are very interested in making sure that no one is left out, and that anybody who deserves compensation will be able to achieve that," she said.

"We always felt that it was better to negotiate than litigate," said Bennett, pointing to her government’s compensation for survivors of the Sixties Scoop and evacuees of the 2011 Manitoba flood.

"We learn every time. And I think the survivors’ leadership has been hugely important in us trying to get this right, this time," she said.

Ottawa controlled about 700 schools, and the class-action lawyers’ own research suggests schools operated under federal jurisdiction in at least 59 towns and reserves in every region of Manitoba.

It’s unclear how many Manitobans could qualify for compensation. A spokeswoman for the case claimed it would violate solicitor-client privilege to disclose the number or location of class-action members, if that information hasn’t already been listed court documents.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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