Ottawa proposes settlement with residential school day scholars

The federal government announced Wednesday a proposed settlement agreement with residential school day scholars that would provide compensation to survivors and their families.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said each eligible survivor would receive $10,000. Their children would also have access to support through a new $50 million Indigenous-led not-for-profit fund dubbed the Day Scholar Revitalization Society.

“While many Canadians are aware of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, few are aware that not all survivors of residential schools could receive compensation under that agreement. The day scholars, those who attended a residential school during the day, but returned home at night could seek compensation for physical and sexual abuse suffered on the school premises but unlike residents, they were not eligible to receive compensation for the experience,” she said.

Those who attended residential schools during the day or for part of the year were left out of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which compensates individuals who attended the institutions full time.

Since then, they’ve been pushing for legal recognition of the damages caused by their experiences there.

Bennett said the agreement is signed but is awaiting court approval – to be determined on September 7 – and that between now and August, residential school day scholars will be able to provide feedback to the court.

A representative from the class-action lawsuit speaking at the news conference reflected on her time spent as a day scholar.

“These years were the dark ages of my life,” said Diena Jules, who attended the Kamloops, B.C., residential school. “The other children and I were physically and verbally abused for speaking our native languages… they called me a pagan and a dumb Indian and told me that I needed to become more white.”

She said she became ashamed of her culture and that she didn’t feel she belonged with her community.

“I have worked hard to recover my sense of self-worth, my connection to my community,” she said. “I am proud that we stood up for ourselves and for our people and that now after many years, our experiences are being recognized and compensated.”

She added that while the settlement brings relief, no compensation can account for the legacy of the residential school system.

Bennett noted this as well, and said she hopes the new fund will bring about long-term healing, education, wellness, and commemoration.

On Monday, members of Parliament voted unanimously to urge the Liberals to halt their appeals of Canadian Human Rights Tribunal orders that would require the government to compensate children taken into an under-resourced child-welfare system and broaden the applicability of Jordan's Principle.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet abstained from the vote, drawing criticism from opposition politicians and Indigenous activists for not following through on their commitment to reconciliation.

In an statement to CTVNews.ca in response to the announcement on Wednesday, Jamie Schmale, Conservative Crown-Indigenous relations critic said the party is “pleased” with the settlement proposal but “the work cannot end here.”

“That’s why we are calling for the Liberal government to implement our calls for immediate, needed action - including the development of a comprehensive plan to implement calls to action 71 through 76, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada, by July 1, 2021.”

The Liberals have maintained that TRC calls to action 71 through 76, regarding what needs to be done to address the missing children and unmarked graves at residential schools, are nearing completion.

The NDP are now calling on the federal government to label the experiences at residential schools a “genocide,” which will be articulated in a motion tabled in the House of Commons on Thursday.

"There is no reconciliation without truth. And what happened in residential school was clearly an act of genocide, with impacts that reverberate (in) our families' community today," said MP Leah Gazan.

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If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.