Residential school settlements reach $2.6 billion
More than $2.6 billion has been paid out to date as compensation to former Indian residential school students across the country, but some say money alone will not heal their wounds.
“There’s still a lot to be done. There are many different ways of healing,” Lac la Ronge Indian Band Chief Tammy Cook-Searson said.
As of Dec. 1, $2.643 billion had been paid out by the federal government in more than 30,000 settlements across Canada, according to the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Secretariat. More than 6,300 of those claims came from Saskatchewan.
That figure is sure to climb. There are still 7,691 claims in progress, including nearly 2,500 from Saskatchewan.
In an interview, chief adjudicator Dan Shapiro said everyone is working hard to resolve the outstanding claims before spring 2016.
“We’re doing everything we can to achieve that,” he said.
He said there’s no set budget, and he hasn’t estimated the eventual cost of the settlements.
Shapiro’s office hears testimony from former students and can award settlements based on the degree of abuse suffered. A Saskatoon lawyer, Shapiro agreed that financial settlements alone will not achieve healing for former residential school students.
“This is only one element of justice,” Shapiro said.
Cook-Searson has been following the case of one former student, Bobby Bird. The 10-year-old boy disappeared from the Timber Bay Children’s Home in 1969. Decades later, DNA tests confirmed remains found in a field were Bobby’s. It’s thought he attempted to run home to La Ronge, more than 200 kilometres north, before freezing to death.
Cook-Searson said suppression of First Nations culture and abuse weren’t the only harm caused by the schools. Hundreds of children died of tuberculosis, from violence, or in desperate attempts to run home.
She said many students and families were reluctant to speak about their experience and the harmful legacy. She’s glad to see that’s changing for Bobby Bird’s family and hundreds of others.
“It was a dark secret. People were so ashamed,” she said.
She said the general public is beginning to understand what the estimated 150,000 children nationwide went through in the schools. She wonders if the federal government is willing to be true partners in reconciliation.
The Timber Bay operation was left off the list of official residential schools, denying students the compensation, support and justice sought by others, she said. The Lac la Ronge Indian Band and others are contesting the issue in court.
Shapiro said the adjudication secretariat was expecting approximately 12,000 claims when it began in 2007, but has received just under 38,000. The agency is working with law firms to expedite the process, and encourages anyone with a pending claim to work with legal counsel.