The Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) launched a class action lawsuit against the government of Canada this week in an attempt to gain compensation for day scholars who attended residential schools.
“They were left out of the original settlement, but they suffered the same abuses,” said SIB Chief Garry Feschuk.
SIB council has been meeting with members of the Kamloops Nation for quite some time to craft the lawsuit, Feschuk said.
“I would say probably close to three to four years now we’ve been meeting with Kamloops about coming together, wanting to see if we can join forces to put together a suit to go after Canada,” he said.
In 2005, the government of Canada issued a residential school settlement, admitting that their policy of assimilation through residential schools was wrong. The settlement awarded millions of dollars to former students and their families; however, day scholars were not included in the settlement.
“Our community thought they were included in the first settlement package. That’s why our community wanted our leadership to get involved and see if we can seek redress for them, and that’s what we’re doing,” Feschuk said, noting there are about 120 former day scholars in the Band.
Two bus loads of SIB members travelled to Vancouver Aug. 15 to witness the class action suit being filed, and Feschuk said many more were to meet them in Vancouver.
“Our national chief and our regional chief will be standing with us plus a number of other leaders from across the province, and there will even be some chiefs from Saskatchewan joining us because they want to join the class action now,” Feschuk told Coast Reporter Aug. 14.
The class action suit is divided into three parts, Feschuk explained.
“The way we’ve set out the suit is that the first part of the class action is for the survivors, which is the people who attended the residential school. And then also we have another suit for the decedents of the survivors who actually went through that same cycle of abuse that’s been handed down from the schools,” Feschuk said. “Then the third class that we’re doing is a Band class for the erosion of our language and the erosion of our culture.”
If the court agrees to certify the lawsuit, Feschuk suspects many more will get involved.
“The way it has been set up, other Nations can either join in now or they can start their own suit because all the work has been done on how to get this resolved and seek redress for our respective communities,” he said.
Feschuk noted the SIB tried to address the issue of compensation for day scholars with the federal government before going the class action route.
“After it’s certified, I think we’ll get the government’s attention because we’ve been trying to meet, we’ve been sending numerous letters to the prime minister, to the minister about seeking redress for the day scholars and the people who attended day school and each letter came back denying us,” Feschuk said.
In addition to monetary compensation, Feschuk wants to see healing for former SIB day scholars, which is why the Band is working on a wellness plan.
“I think the biggest part of the plan, even though we’re seeking damages for the people who attended the school, seeking damages for the Nation for loss of language, loss of culture, is we also want to have a wellness plan so that our communities now can begin to start healing the wounds that have been inflicted upon them from the residential school,” he said.
“I think these stories need to come out to find out what actually happened in these schools because their main goal was to take the Indian out of the child, that was their main goal. The stories of abuses that happened in those schools are just horrendous.”
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) John Duncan said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the class action lawsuit while it is before the courts.
Instead media spokesperson for AANDC Michelle Perron told Coast Reporter that “according to the provisions of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement [IRSSA] that were agreed upon by all parties and approved by the courts, non-residential elementary and secondary schools were not included in the agreement. Canada is only one of many parties which negotiated and agreed to the IRSSA, and Canada must respect the terms of the original agreement.”