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This article was published 26/4/2011 (3092 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They were called day students and former national chief Phil Fontaine is working with a Manitoba-born lawyer to seek a settlement for them, similar to the residential school settlement.
"Those issues we faced with the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement were essentially the same, except day scholars, as we called them, were left out," Fontaine said in a recent interview.
Thousands of aboriginal people who attended federally funded schools as children during the residential school era were left out of a $1.9-billion compensation settlement because they went home to their families every night.
Now in their 50s and 60s, many observers believe these adults were stripped of their languages and cultures and subjected to abuse just as much as residential school survivors.
"All these schools were, of course, established as a result of the federal government's policy, which was essentially designed to 'kill the Indian in the child.' It was an attack on our languages and our cultures," Fontaine said.
"My commitment to (Manitoba lawyer Joan Jack's) proposed action is to seek justice for all those aboriginal students."
Jack filed suit on behalf of students in the McLean Day School in Manitoba in 2009 after a Manitoba residential school support group, Spiritwind, retained her.
She started with four day students in Manitoba: Garry McLean, Margaret Swan, Henry A. McKay and Mary Ann Scott and took the class-action suit nationally the same year.
She's since signed up 10,000 former day-school students as plaintiffs. "This case has become my life," she said.
In December, Jack approached Fontaine. The pair sealed their commitment to the cause in Winnipeg just before Easter.
"He's a busy guy and we met and talked things over and he said, 'OK, I'll help you.' His exact words were 'I think we can do some formidable work together, Joan,' " Jack said.
It took Fontaine's last decade as national chief to hammer out the residential school settlement with Ottawa and, oddly enough, day students were never included in the deal, the former national chief said.
"When all the discussion first started, it was about residential schools and there was little if anything said about day scholars or day students," Fontaine recalled.
The fact day students went home at night to their families meant they didn't qualify under Ottawa's definition of assimilation, which included criteria that students had to be removed from their families, their communities and institutionalized to qualify for compensation.
Residential school survivors launched their action against Ottawa in a series of 21 separate class-action suits from different regions of Canada, a strategy Fontaine believes will work just as successfully for day students.
"The advantage this particular action may have is all the ground work has already been done in terms of how one advances these matters," Fontaine said.
"Obviously one would hope the federal government would be prepared to sit down and negotiate a resolution to this matter, as opposed to having the courts be the place where we go for a remedy," Fontaine said.
Jack is on a cross-country tour of First Nations to publicize the work and to sign up more plaintiffs.
She's meeting with Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in mid-May.
Sagkeeng Chief Donavan Fontaine, the former national chief's nephew, said his parents were day students and where they laid their heads at night didn't matter.
"Abuse is abuse and these schools were part of the government system to take the Indian out of the child. Regardless of whether you slept there or not, you were still impacted," Donavan Fontaine said.
NO one knows how many day schools there were in Canada, but research by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs put the number at 111 in Manitoba alone.
Some day schools were located on the same grounds as residential schools.
Some were run by Anglican, Catholic, or other Christian denominations.
Phil Fontaine remembers four day schools in addition to the residential school he attended at Manitoba's Sagkeeng First Nation.
About 80,000 survivors received an average of $28,000 under the residential school agreement. The compensation deadline for eligible survivors is in September.
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.