Saskatchewan refuses to negotiate a deal over Ile-a-la Crosse residential school settlement say feds

The federal government says it’s willing to sit and negotiate a settlement with survivors of the Ile-a-la-Crosse residential school but it needs the province of Saskatchewan at the table to make a deal happen.

“The Government of Canada is willing to step up to the plate and settle its portion of the liability with survivors and support their claims against the government of Saskatchewan but it’s work that should ideally be achieved around the negotiating table,” said Marc Miller, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations.

“These are people that are aging and they deserve compensation and they deserve some closure.”

The history of the Catholic-run residential school, which was open from the mid-1840s to the mid-1970s and attended by about 1,500 children, is complicated.

At different times it was funded by both Ottawa and the province, operated as a day and boarding school and was attended largely by Métis students.

Lawyer Margaret Waddell said these are some of the reasons why the school was not included in the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

“Because Ile-a-la Crosse was being operated for a large period of time by the Saskatchewan government and most of the population were Métis they weren’t included on that list,” she said. “So, they fell through the cracks.”

Waddell’s law firm is currently in the process of taking over a dormant class action suit on behalf of survivors of the school and next month the firm goes before a Saskatchewan judge to seek certification.

Jim Durocher on Parliament Hill in June. Photo: Fraser Needham/APTN.

Survivors like Jim Durocher.

“I’m a day school survivor – 10 years – and we need to try and do something,” said Durocher at an event on Parliament Hill last month. “I’ve got to make a plug for Ile-a-la Crosse because we need to settle and the people that can make that happen are here today.”

But as Métis Nation-Saskatchewan Vice-President Michelle LeClair points out, time is running out for survivors.

“This needs to be resolved and it needs to be resolved as soon as possible,” she said. “I mean look the residential school closed in I believe it was 1974, so the youngest of the survivors are in their mid to late 50s and the oldest survivors are in their 90s.”

Nevertheless, Ottawa and the MN-S accuse the Saskatchewan government of dragging its feet and refusing to come to the table when it comes to negotiating compensation for survivors and their families.

Miller told APTN News the federal government had no choice but to file a freedom of information request because the Saskatchewan Party government refuses to disclose school-related documents.

“We have requested a number of times meetings with the provincial government to sit down and talk about the residential school and even getting information around the class size, the number of students and all of these sorts of things and they just refuse to meet with us,” LeClair added.

“I received a letter which I thought was ironic about a year ago with respect to the residential school and in the letter the government talked about the fact they were committed to reconciliation and at the same time refused to meet with us.”

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In an emailed statement to APTN, a Saskatchewan justice official repeated the provincial government is committed to ongoing reconciliation. But said Saskatchewan did not own or operate the facility and could not comment further because of litigation.

When asked to verify the province did fund the school for most of its existence the official replied, “The Ministry has nothing further to add at this time.”

Waddell later reiterated to APTN that the Saskatchewan government did indeed fund the Ile-a-la Crosse residential school for most of its existence.

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