Margaret Swan says she did it for the late Garry McLean and an estimated 140,000 other day school survivors concerned about their compensation.
Swan climbed on stage at the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) meeting in Ottawa last week and called on chiefs to fight a legal challenge that is delaying the settlement agreement on the McLean class-action.
It appears to have worked.
The AFN confirmed Monday National Chief Perry Bellegarde plans to meet with Paul-Emile Ottawa, chief of Conseil des Atikamekw de Manawan, this week to try and make a deal.
The meeting builds on the resolution passed unanimously Dec. 5 after Swan’s emotional speech calling on Chief Ottawa to withdraw his appeal, which lawyers say is delaying the claims process indefinitely.
“Until the court challenges are resolved, the settlement cannot move forward,” a spokeswoman for legal firm Gowling WLG said in an email to APTN News.
“The tentative implementation date was Dec. 19. The continued appeals will delay implementation until 30 days after the final determination of the last appeal.”
A spokeswoman for the federal court said it’s not known when a judge will rule on Chief Ottawa’s request for leave to appeal.
“There is no set date by which judgment must be rendered and advance notice of a decision’s release is not generally provided,” she said in an email.
“I cannot speculate as to when the decision will be rendered or whether a decision will be rendered before Christmas.”
(Garry McLean was the lead plaintiff in a $15B lawsuit against the federal government over Indian day schools. APTN)
Leaving survivors nothing to do but wait and wonder
Swan said she didn’t know beforehand exactly what she was going to do or say to rally the chiefs of the 634 First Nations in Canada.
“I had to do something to try to push this forward,” she said in an interview Monday. “And I kept praying for guidance.
“I decided when I got to Ottawa this is something that needs to be done.”
After her speech, Swan said she needed some quiet time.
“When I got off the stage… I broke down and had to go sit out for a while and have a good cry.”
Swan is the lead plaintiff in the settlement agreement following the death of McLean.
The lawsuit seeks compensation for Indigenous former students forced to attend federal Indian day schools.
“Our people need healing,” said Swan, noting she would have liked to speak with Chief Ottawa in person.
“I just want him to work with us and support us, and we would do the same with another lawsuit if that’s what they choose to go with.”
The federal government agreed to settle the day school lawsuit last spring – just weeks after McLean died of cancer – and a federal court judge approved the deal in August.
Survivors are eligible for up to $200,000 for harms suffered at the schools, and were expecting claims to begin being processed on December 17.
Now that’s on hold.
The spokeswoman for federal court said Chief Ottawa filed two appeals about how the settlement is unfair to his community north of Montreal through his Montreal-based lawyer David Schulze.
Schulze could not be reached for comment by deadline Monday.
Swan said she will keep pushing until survivors are compensated.
“Gary McLean was very key in getting this agreement done,” she added.
“And I promised certain people that I wouldn’t rest until this is done, and I’m going to keep at it.”