Cree lawyer Eleanore Sunchild believes residential school survivors deserve one final chance to file a claim under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), even though the deadline passed in 2012.
Sept. 19, 2012 was the government’s deadline to file claims under the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), the section of the IRSSA the dealt with compensation for sexual and serious physical abuse
Sunchild, a citizen of the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan, just east of the Alberta border town of Lloydminster, has been practicing law for 12 years. The daughter of a prominent Cree Elder, she has been focussing her practice on residential school law.
She has collected approximately 300 files of people who missed the deadline and therefore, as of this moment, missed out on getting a hearing to tell their story and let an adjudicator determine if they qualify for compensation under the IAP. She is convinced there are thousands of survivors who missed out across the country.
She will soon file a request for direction (RFD) with one of the judges who supervise the IRSSA.
“My argument is that this deadline is miscalculated. There were two periods that had to expire before you got to the deadline,” she told APTN Investigates. “Basically, they counted 30 days and then they started counting the next 30 days on the same day. But they were supposed to let the first period – the first 30 days – expire and then start counting again to get to the implementation date.”
And then the deadline date was set at five years after the implementation date.
“But by counting the second 30 days on top of the first 30 days, they actually missed a whole day,” she said. “So my argument is that the deadline was Sept. 20, 2012 not Sept. 19, 2012. And by doing that they deprived people of an entire 24-hour period.”
“If they told people before the deadline that all they had to do was submit their name in order to preserve the right to file an application after the deadline that would have saved people grief”
– Eleanor Sunchild
As the Sept. 19, 2012 deadline approached, hundreds of last-minute applications were received, just at the Sunchild Law firm alone.
“The period around the deadline was crazy. We were inundated by people coming in and phoning and faxing from all over Canada wanting to get a claim in. In the last week we submitted close to 500 claims. It was crazy and every law firm was like that,” the lawyer said.
She said the IAP Secretariat, a government bureaucracy set up to implement the IAP process, erred at that time in another way.
“The secretariat said you have to send in a signed application in order to meet the deadline. But after, we found out all they really needed was a name to be submitted prior to the deadline. So people who were apprehensive or reluctant to file a claim before the deadline, all they would have to do was submit their name,” she said. “So if they told people before the deadline that all they had to do was submit their name in order to preserve the right to file an application after the deadline that would have saved people grief.”
Many advocates and leaders of survivor groups have pointed out that many of the people who suffered the worst of the residential school system live broken lives of addiction, homelessness and illiteracy. And because the IAP is reserved for people who suffered severe trauma as young children decades ago, many had a hard time getting themselves into the right frame of mind to re-live that trauma.
Many also live in remote places where the government’s advertising campaign to inform survivors of the approaching deadline would not have reached.
And since residential schools were mostly about cultural assimilation and definitely not primarily about education, many of the people who attended those schools would not be sophisticated enough to comprehend the legalistic language of the government advertising.
So there were many compelling reasons why people would have missed the deadline, survivors say.
Sunchild believes the notice of the impending deadline, published or broadcast by most media outlets, “was written at a level that was very sophisticated and I don’t think the average Grade 8 residential school survivor would be able to properly read that.”
Survivor organization leaders say that every person excluded from the IAP is a financial gain for the government. Allowing people damaged by the system to be excluded because of that damage is contrary to the idea of natural justice, they say.
“Yes, it is,” Sunchild said. “I’m going to argue that there should be honor of the Crown when they’re dealing with residential school survivors. Of course, the residential school survivors are vulnerable people and the government knows it. So there should be some leniency or even common sense in allowing these people to file an application. But the court is saying that the implementation has to be a strict interpretation of the IRSSA.”
A graduate of the University of Alberta law school.
Ray Mason was there in the earliest days of the fight to hold Canada and the churches accountable for the abuses of the residential school system.
The former leader of survivor group Spirit Wind Manitoba and former president of the National Indian Residential School Survivor Society attended the Birtle Residential School in Portage la Prairie, Man., and the Mackay Residential School in Dauphin, Man., for almost 12 years.
As groups of residential school survivors started to get organized in many corners of the country in the mid-1980s, Mason and a small group of former classmates came to occupy a central role in the movement in Manitoba.
See a complete list of stories in the APTN National News and Investigates on the IRSSA: In the Archives
As things got moving, Mason was also in touch with survivors involved with the various class-action lawsuits across the country that were brought against Canada and the churches.
“When we first started, we knew there was a group of people here, a group of people there, some people. And I said, OK, why don’t we unite as one? And let’s do this under one roof,” he said.
Mason called APTN Investigates last year to remind us of the various tactics used by the government and the churches as they tried to contain the movement of survivors demanding justice. He said it’s easy to forget just how hard and how cutthroat the fight was in the days before the settlement agreement.
“When I came out of the residential school, I came out of there frustrated. I came out of there confused, angry at the world,” he recalled. “We used to meet and we used to reminisce and talk about our time in the schools and all that we went through. And then one day, I just mentioned, I said, well, don’t you think that’s wrong? Because if I stayed with my mom, I think things would have been a lot better. And that’s where it all started.”
As they looked back at their time at the schools, Mason came to a decision.
“At that point I thought, well, I’m going to sue Canada. And then it hit home, and I began to realize, wow, if I’m suing our government, I better get more people to help me and support me,” he said.
The idea caught on with survivors. Mason said his group was involved in settlement talks with the government and found themselves competing with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN). The government was prepared to settle out of court to avoid dealing with the handful of class-action lawsuits. They were prepared to make a common experience payment to all who attended a residential school plus provide additional compensation to those who experienced sexual and serious physical abuse.
The discussion was about how much to compensate for the first year in school and how much for each additional year. Mason says the AFN settled for less than his group was seeking, agreeing to $10,000 for the first year and $3,000 for each additional year.
“And we were negotiating, and we were talking, $25,000 and $10,000. I asked Phil Fontaine, our national chief of the day, how did he come up with his formula,” Mason said.
He said Fontaine told him they followed the model established when Japanese Canadians interned by the government during the Second World War were compensated by the Brian Mulroney government in 1988.
We asked the former three-term national chief to comment on this but he declined to be interviewed. In previous interviews, Fontaine has said repeatedly that it was a negotiation and his negotiators did the best they could, adding that the advanced age of survivors put pressure on the AFN to not get involved in a long, drawn out process. And the threat of breaking off negotiations and going to court could have meant that survivors received nothing.
Despite that, many survivors still second-guess the AFN and Fontaine.
The question of how the AFN became involved in negotiations in the first place is another item of contention for many survivors.
“Well, that’s the area that we made a slip-up. We lost control. And that should have never happened. Because what you know of what we’ve done as a grassroots organization, all the hard work, all the highs and lows of that, and the disappointments. It was very traumatic even to lobby and fight for that, because Canada was so dead-set against us,” Mason said.
He also had problems with how the settlement agreement was administered by the government.
“Some people got nothing. And then some people got maybe $10,000,” he said.
And despite Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler’s strong admonition to the Crown – when he ratified the settlement agreement – to be aware of its unique position as both defendant and administrator and, that “there must be an express recognition by the defendant proposed as administrator, that the settlement is being implemented and administered in a court-supervised process, and not subject to the direction of the defendant either directly or indirectly” many survivors told APTN Investigates they believe they saw the heavy hand of the Crown in many facets of the day-to-day operations of the settlement agreement’s administration.
The bureaucratic and complex legalistic processes in the agreement were not ideal for most survivors, Mason and others say.
“When you make an appeal, the other bad thing about it was that you could not speak to your appeal. Because the whole process that went on when somebody had made an appeal, all it did was, they took the transcript and everything of your hearing, and gave it to another adjudicator in the same house. Now, is that adjudicator going to show up their colleague, and say, oh, you made a terrible mistake, I think you should give this person a large amount of money?”
Survivors were often forced to prove they attended a school, even though the government was supposed to keep records and monitors status Indians from cradle to grave.
“I always said that we should never have to prove that we were put in those institutions. But yet to turn around and ask us, oh, what did the guy look like, what did the perpetrator look like? Or, do you remember the colour of that building, what’s the name of the place that you’re…They expected us to know something about records. And we had never had the records to start off with. We never knew about records. I guess, what you would call it, a travesty of justice?” he said.
The government disqualified many schools based on technicalities.
“It doesn’t matter where you stuck us. You are responsible,” he said. “I tried to talk to the lawyers to bring that up, because Canada is also lucky they never got charged for child abduction on top of this whole fiasco.”
The government and the churches tried every legal tactic possible to derail the pending class-action lawsuits, he said.
“They tried to hit us with a statute of limitations. And that would have virtually wiped us all out.”
“And then they tried to hit us with the taxation issue,” he added, saying that taxing residential schools compensation would be essentially clawing it all back.
“They make you go through the hoops. And another sad thing about it, and they know us Native people, we are a poor people. So they create more hardship, put them through the court system. It’s costly. Time consuming,” he said. “They hope that we’ll all die off and give up. And I thank God for the lawyers that do stand up and believe in us, and are willing to work on a contingency basis for us to help us get justice. Otherwise, like the government’s attitude, they’re poor, they don’t have no money. They would never have enough money to fight us in the courts.”
Mason is writing a book about his experiences.
“It’s called Spirit of the Grassroots People. And I’m just a messenger,” he said. “I’m a first-time author. And I’m writing about all my personal activities that I feel that I contributed and helped bring about the Indian Residential School [Settlement] Agreement. Now, the way the agreement turned out is not the way I wanted it to. But it’ll show in my book why I say that.”
Writing has not been easy but he wants people to remember the survivors he worked with and pay tribute to all those who helped survivors, including those he disagreed with from time to time.
“It has to come out. It’s like digging up old bones, really. When you dig up old bones, all the hurt comes out, and memories come out. But then again, it helps me get stronger in a way too. Can you imagine my book, when I wrote my book it took me four months to get through the first two chapters, I’d go in there, type, come out of there bawling like a baby. Because I just couldn’t type,” he said. “I talk about all the little things that people don’t think it was important, that was important. And I hope that someday, my little committee and my people, will get justice as well. And I speak from the heart when I talk. I’m not out to get revenge. I’m not out to defame anybody, or hurt anybody. In fact, I still acknowledge the great AFN grand chief that consummated everything. I have to give credit where it’s due.”
Researcher calls for public inquiry into medical experimentation on students not compensated in Settlement Agreement
After he published his research in 2013 exposing medical experimentation on students at residential schools involving withholding of certain foods, the invitations started coming in for Dr. Ian Mosby.
“A lot of communities wanted me to come and explain to people myself, in person,” he said, during an interview in Toronto.
Mosby heard repeatedly that former students felt vindicated by his findings.
“People have been telling these stories of experimentation, of abuse, of all sorts of things that have now been documented by historians like myself. But people could have believed what survivors were saying a long time ago, and I think we would be a lot further than we are right now,” he added.
The stories he heard about more recent events involve complaints about how survivors were treated under the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), the system created under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement to compensate survivors for sexual or severe physical abuse.
“I think the sense I have speaking with survivors is that the IAP process caused a lot of harm. In the way it was set up, the ranking of damage and of harm that was done, I think a lot of people found that to be really dehumanizing,” he told APTN Investigates. “And also, the combative nature of it in which people were told that they would be believed, and then they got there and they were challenged. So I think that was a real failure on the part of Canada to not fix the process earlier on.”
There was no initiative by the government, which administered an out-of-court settlement of a class action lawsuit in which it was a defendant, to respond to new revelations about residential school abuse, he said.
“And an example is, the survivors of the nutrition experiments. They did not get additional compensation. That was not one of the harms listed,” he said. “Harms that are still not recognized under the IAP agreement that I think in the spirit of reconciliation, perhaps Canada needs to be open to re-examining that and providing answers.”
He believes Canadians, including government officials, need to accept the fact that horrible things happened in their country.
“My father was born in Port Alberni. My family lived there at the time when the nutrition experiments were taking place at the Alberni residential school. Some of the members of my family, not my parents, but the response was, ’They wouldn’t have done that in the school,’ or ‘I knew people who worked there, they were good people.’ There’s sort of a disbelief, I think,” he said. “And you know, we have Senator Lynn Beyak basically saying what I think a lot of Canadians still believe. Which is, the intentions were good, there were bad apples, but overall the schools were somehow good intentioned. Which, all evidence points to the exact opposite. Which is, in fact, the schools were genocidal in intent.”
There’s a very real chance that denial has had an ongoing negative affect on the health of First Nations’ people, he believes.
“I have heard many survivors talk about not being believed when they approach medical professionals, physicians, nurses. And I think this is a pretty common story across the country, is people not being believed when they say that they have medical conditions,” he said.
The evidence of the medical experimentation emerged after the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was finalized. And revelations in a recently published book, Medicine Unbundled: A Journey through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care, by British Columbia based writer Gary Geddes, has led Mosby to believe there should be a public inquiry into the segregated Indian hospitals and their relationship with residential schools.
“I think a public inquiry into the history of healthcare in Indigenous communities, and particularly the history of racially segregated Indian hospitals,” Mosby said. “The most important reason why, is a lot of survivors of residential schools spent years in these institutions, in these hospitals. In fact, have been lobbying, and suing the government to be included, to have those years including in their residential school settlement agreement. And as I think historians like Maureen Lux have shown, the barrier between school and hospital was fluid.”
“Children were being sent one place to the other with little knowledge or input of their parents,” he added. “And because the hospitals have been separated off through the settlement agreement, we’re missing a huge part of that story.”
Evidence is emerging that poor nutrition in the schools had life-long, even inter-generational effects, he said.
“Being malnourished, not having sufficient calories during childhood between the ages of four and 16, for instance, dramatically increases your susceptibility to type two diabetes, to obesity, to heart disease, to a number of conditions that disproportionately affect Indigenous people in Canada,” he said. “And so, we begin to see the ways in which the nutritional conditions in these schools continued to affect people well after they left the schools. And it’s not only that, but people were not only poorly fed, but food was often used as a system of reward and punishment. People have trauma associated with food that continued on in their lives. People didn’t learn about traditional foods. People didn’t learn how to properly prepare, harvest, and eat the foods of their own culture. And instead, in residential schools, children were given not only substandard, often rotten food, but food that really, going forward, was a terrible model,” Mosby said.
The historian says the evidence shows the current poor health outcomes for Aboriginal peoples began with poor nutrition in the schools.
“There was a recent study published just a few months ago that showed in fact that students in Saskatchewan were healthy going into residential schools. In fact, they were just as healthy as non-Indigenous kids. And that in residential schools, their diets took a significant downturn. And this has had huge consequences that I think are often not acknowledged,” he said. “And the fact that many of our healthcare interventions into Indigenous communities around issues like Type 2 diabetes don’t acknowledge the sort of both direct effects of malnutrition at residential schools, but also the intergenerational effects that they’ve had on communities. And so part of this is an unwillingness to acknowledge the legacy of Canada’s colonial policies.”
Mosby believes Canada has an obligation to make amends for the policies that drove the residential schools and segregated hospitals.
“In the spirit of the TRC calls to action, cost shouldn’t be the determining factor. The determining factor should be the truth and achieving those calls to action. And so, understanding for instance, what happened at Indian hospitals–this is about fundamental justice for the survivors of those hospitals, many of whom were children who were taken from residential schools, put into hospitals, then put back into residential schools. If we want to work within the spirit of reconciliation, I think the basic of finding the truth of that through something like an inquiry, it’s the least we can do,” he said.
Survivor’s court case could win damages for intergenerational harms from residential schools
As the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) nears completion, a potentially explosive case brought forward by a former national chief is slowly making its way to court.
Del Riley, who occupied the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations’ office from 1980 to 1982 – during the final days of negotiations that led to Aboriginal rights being enshrined in Canada’s newly-repatriated constitution – refused to participate in the IRSSA.
He saw the settlement agreement as too limited – so he hired the London law firm Harrison Pensa to sue the federal government and the Anglican Church of Canada.
Riley aims to expand the scope of the defendants’ liability as he seeks compensation for his time at the Mohawk Indian Residential School in Brantford, Ont.
The statement of claim, filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in London, Ont. in 2010, seeks $4 million in damages for breach of fiduciary duty.
Riley is also seeking to get a court to acknowledge that his children were harmed because of the abuse inflicted on him, something called inter-generational harms, which were excluded from the settlement agreement.
The lawsuit cites the Ontario Family Law Act in claiming damages for Riley’s adult children – Delbert Leonard “Len” Riley Jr. and Melanie Sadie Debassige — for “loss of care, guidance and companionship” from their father due to the psychological harm he suffered as a student.
Riley alleges he was sexually abused for three years by a dormitory supervisor working for the Anglican Church, which ran the school under an agreement with the federal government.
He decided not to sign on to the IRSSA early on. He thinks too much was bargained away in the settlement agreement. He would have been subject to the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), which governs how former students are compensated for sexual and severe physical abuse.
“I’ve spoken to probably well over 100 people that have gone through the IAP and all they have is nothing but complaints,” he said. “They dealt primarily with three or four abuses. And if you got three or four, you were getting a lot. But as far as I can see, this might be 10 per cent of the part that I’m suing for, and it’s just a small portion of any kind of court settlement. The big part is the breach of fiduciary, and the breach of treaty.”
He acknowledges that having a Canadian judge hear a case where Canada is the defendant has its risks. But he’s going to take the case forward.
“Even though I realize at this point that 30 per cent of our people are sitting in the white man’s jails. So, the worry, I’m on pins and needles. And can I get a fair trial in Canada?” he asked.
Riley believes the government was in no hurry to have his case get to trial.
“This is a whole travesty of justice for me because they put me last. They could have put me first. But here’s what would have happened. Because I’m going to regular court, the items that I’m suing for in the court document are way beyond what they would have allowed you in the IAP. Like they don’t allow you to sue for loss of language, for loss of culture, breach of fiduciary, and a whole host of other things,” he said.
“But the real issue here is, does fiduciary extend to my kids? Because they had a fiduciary responsibility to me, because of the racist Indian Act and all of the restrictions and things they imposed on First Nations people under the Indian Act. And the legal obligation I had to go to this school. So I’m saying that, and it’s my legal advice as well from legal people, that, yeah, fiduciary extends to my children too. As it should to all of the children across Canada who had parents that went to residential schools.”
Riley believes the government took its time responding to this lawsuit because a result in his favor would have been led to some difficult questions.
“They don’t want to be embarrassed by anything that could potentially come out as opposed to what they did in the IAP. Because people are going to compare this case to the IAP. And then everybody’s going to go, OK, well, hey, how come he got that and we couldn’t? You’re going to have lots of questions,” he said.
He said conditions at the school were horrible and the government knew it but did nothing.
“Even though it may have been called a school in the minds of the government, it wasn’t really a school. It was a prison camp for small children, starting at five. It was a place where the kids were literally starved in there,” he said. “They didn’t have enough food for us. We were always hungry. And I think anyone you’ve talked to, you’ll find that’s probably the same case. Always hungry. So in order to supplement that, we would always have to go and dig in the dump, local dump. There was just maybe a half mile away or so, or a couple
“There was just maybe a half mile away or so, or a couple kilometres away and the other was, we were confined. So this was a prison. This was actually a federal prison. I don’t know why they even call it a school. It wasn’t a school because we were confined. And we were beaten. There’s was a lot of beatings. I took a lot of beatings. And a lot of times for things so minor that you wondered why they would engage in things like that.”
(The Mohawk Training Institute in Brantford, Ontario. The school operated from 1828 to 1970.)
Last year, Riley, frustrated with the slow pace of his case, changed law firms. He is now represented by former Ontario premier and interim federal Liberal leader Bob Rae, who is a senior partner at OKT – Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP in Toronto.
Rae toured the former residential school with Riley. He has no doubt that his client was physically and sexually abused there.
“The issue for me is, what is the continuing legal obligation of Canada, with respect to its . . . the Crown has a fiduciary obligation. There’s an obligation to take care of the people who are treated in that way,” said Rae.
“They didn’t take care. There was clear negligence on their part. And the church had an obligation, which, not only negligence on their part, but actually people who worked for the church and who were representative of the church committed the abuse. So when you put those things together, you have what I think is without any question, a very strong legal claim.”
The lawyer was not nearly as quick as his client to conclude the government had delayed the case for political reasons. He said the government had attempted to negotiate a solution. But the government was in a unique position.
“I mean this is where the Crown has two roles, right? The Crown is a defendant for what happened, throughout many decades of what happened in residential schools. But in this case, the Crown is also the government, which has an ongoing responsibility. Because the Crown’s responsibilities, the honour of the Crown doesn’t suddenly evaporate when you’re a defendant in court. Even when you’re a defendant in court, you still have to act honorably and effectively in defending the interests of the First Nations,” he said.
“That, I don’t think has always been followed by the Crown. I think that’s an ongoing challenge.”
Regardless of the outcome of Riley’s court action, those who participated in the settlement agreement will not see a benefit.
“No. The hard fact is that if you’ve been part of the class action and you settled as a result of the class action, then you accepted the settlement payment that was worked out under the class-action scheme that was established by the federal government and the churches. That’s it,” Rae said.
For more on the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement – click here: In the Archives: IRSSA
After he left politics, Rae joined a law firm that specializes in Aboriginal law. He has no doubt that there has been inter-generational harm.
“So we need to understand, the residential school experience was not a 10-year problem, or a 15- or 20-year problem. This is something which lasted for, well, if you go back to the very first residential school and you come to the one last was closed, 160 years. And that’s a long time for inter-generational damage to have been done. And it’s been done for a long time. And that, I think, helps to explain the level of pain that we see in communities.
“And if the people don’t think there’s pain in these communities, they haven’t talked to people. They haven’t visited the communities. Because these communities are deeply troubled places, and we need to understand why. How has that happened?” he said.
Survivors “Falling Through The Cracks” Of Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
Despite being exposed to the worst horrors of the Indian residential schools, Garnet Angeconeb refuses to give in to bitterness or anger.
Born on the Lac Seul First Nation near Sioux Lookout, Ont., he was taken from his family to the nearby Pelican Indian Residential School when he was six years old.
He stayed there from 1963 to 1969.
During that time, Angeconeb and 18 other boys were sexually abused by a dorm supervisor. His abuser was eventually convicted in 1996 and sentenced to four years in prison.
While Angeconeb battled through his “lost years” afterward, dealing with alcohol problems and living through the criminal trial of his abuser, he managed to graduate from high school and then earn a journalism degree at the University of Western Ontario.
In 1985, he was elected to the Sioux Lookout municipal council, where he helped found the Sioux Lookout Anti-racism Committee, which brings Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together to come to grips with the residential schools legacy. He was also a member of the board of directors of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation.
“I get a lot of phone calls. People stop me on the street – survivors – because they know I’ve been involved in the residential school issue for a long time,” he said. “I’m the go-to guy around here.”
When somebody with those qualities and experiences says there’s a problem, it would seem to make sense to pay attention. But it’s been a year since he raised the alarm about the difficulties survivors have been having with the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA).
Last spring, he sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett calling for an independent review of the administration of the IRSSA.
“I got a letter from an assistant in Carolyn Bennett’s office,” he said. “It said, ‘Thank you for your letter. We do from time to time review aspects of the agreement and there’s no need for an overall comprehensive review of the settlement agreement. Thank you for writing.’”
But survivors have run into all sorts of complications as the settlement agreement has unfolded. Whether they were let down by an unscrupulous lawyer or targeted by predatory business people or ignored by an inflexible bureaucracy, a significant number have received inadequate compensation – or been left out entirely.
“Survivors have fallen through the cracks in that agreement. Now the settlement agreement is coming to an end, we need to know was it good for survivors?” he said. “So we need to somehow measure the successes and the failures of the settlement agreement.”
Angeconeb says many survivors, who were poorly educated and traumatized in residential school, were not equipped to deal with the technicalities of the settlement agreement, especially the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) that was created to compensate victims of sexual or severe physical abuse.
He was approached by one man whose IAP application had been denied. The man had a letter informing him of the denial and informing him he had 30 days to appeal. It was well past the deadline.
“He said to me, ‘You mean I missed the boat?’ And I said, yeah you did, sadly and unfortunately, yeah, you did. He looked at me really seriously and he said, ‘You know how difficult it was to open up old wounds and tell my story . . . for nothing?’”
He believes there should have been stronger supports in place for survivors.
“You know there are other horrible stories. About a year after the deadline for IAP, I had a survivor come to me and say ‘Garnet, I finally have enough strength to go for the compensation package.’ And I said, ‘Sorry, you missed the deadline for the IAP. It’s over,’” he said. “And he looked at me and he said, ‘Really? You mean I can’t tell my story and go for compensation?’”
(The Sioux Lookout Residential School – also known as the Pelican Residential School)
Angeconeb tried to help. He called the IAP Secretariat.
“And I was told you can’t talk on behalf of him because you’re not a lawyer and you’re not representing him and so until we hear from his lawyer we can’t talk about the file,” he said. “So I went back to him and he said, ‘Never mind. I’m not going to pursue it. If I missed it, I missed the deadline and that’s it.’”
It’s not right that people who were damaged by the system should be excluded from compensation because of that damage, Angeconeb said.
“I’m talking about survivors who are illiterate, that can’t read and write, who don’t understand the process. They’re silenced. They’re the weakened voice and who really truly represents them?” he asked. “We have survivors at the table in Ottawa negotiating these deals and agreements and what have you. And I like the work they do. But at the same time I have to question: Are survivors at the ground level being really represented? And my guess is no. Because why else would it be that survivors who either aren’t ready or have fallen through the cracks really have no place to go to appeal the decisions?”
He said it’s not too late to address this gap in the agreement.
“One of the things I would like to see – it`s not over yet – is a safety net. I think you need some kind of a safety net to make sure those who may have fallen through the cracks have something, before the book is closed, that they have one more kick at the can,” he said.
The IAP was intended to be less adversarial, to be a process for verifying the legitimacy of claims without the stress of a trial.
“Survivors felt that this system – the IAP process – was not any less confrontational, as it was meant to be. Some of them walked out of those hearings more wounded than they went in and thinking I’ll go tell my story, they’ll process my claim, get my cheque. But it was pretty rough for many survivors going through the validation process, being cross-examined, if you will. And so I’ve heard from many people that it was just as adversarial as going to the regular court.”
He says many non-Aboriginal Canadians don’t want to believe the reality of the residential schools and that also led to problems with the administration of the settlement agreement.
“One of the things that I’ve had to deal with as a survivor is, people saying, that couldn’t have happened. Look at you, you’re okay. You have a good job. You did okay. And I have to sadly correct them. No, I’m not okay,” he said.
If there isn’t an independent review of the settlement agreement, mistakes could be repeated, Angeconeb said.
“We need to evaluate the settlement agreement because there are going to be other processes on the horizon that may have compensation. The day schools. Already we’re dealing with the 60s scoop. And who knows where the inquiry of missing and murdered Aboriginal women, where all that’s going to go?” he asked.
To wrap up the settlement agreement, accept that people were left out and just turn the page is not an indication that Canada and the churches have accepted the full blame for the residential schools, he said.
“The statement of apology had some very powerful words. I have yet to see a lot of those words translated into action. And there was one part where the apology says something to the effect, we are now joining you on your healing train. I have to see that happen. So I think we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
See Garnet’s website here: Garnet’s Journey
Looking for APTN’s stories on the IRSSA? Click here: In the Archives: Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement
See Garnet’s website here: Garnet’s Journey
Looking for APTN’s stories on the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement? Click here: IRSSA in the Archives