Ottawa silent on compensation for First Nations residential school "day scholars"

Residential schools were boarding schools operated by the Canadian government as part of its "aggressive assimilation" policy which sought to assimilate aboriginal children into mainstream European Canadian society by adopting Christianity and speaking English or French. Canada's residential schools are marred by countless allegations of sexual, emotional and physical abuse of aboriginal children by staff. 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend a recorded 130 residential schools across Canada between 1874 to 1996.

Aboriginal students at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in an undated photo. Photo source: Fallen Feather.

On the final day for aboriginal residential school survivors to apply for compensation from the federal government, First Nations communities in BC continue to seek justice for "day scholars"--former students ineligible for compensation because they attended schools that didn't require them to stay overnight.

The compensation program is part of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), the largest class action settlement in Canadian history.

The Agreement includes a Common Experience Payment (CEP) for "every eligible former student who resided at a recognized Indian Residential School living on May 30, 2005, the day the negotiations were initiated," according to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. The government set aside $1.9 billion for the CEP, which disburses $10,000 for the first school year and $3,000 for each subsequent year to each eligible former student.

Evelyn Camille, a residential school survivor and Tk'emlúps Indian Band councillor, told The Vancouver Observer that many people in her community who experienced trauma and abuse at the government-run Kamloops Indian Residential School applied for CEP but were rejected because the school was not technically a boarding school at time they attended.

"Many of our membership were thrust from their homes into this residential school," Camille said. Camille said she was forced to attend the Kamloops Indan Residential School for ten years between 1945 to 1950, starting from when she was around six years old. Though the school stopped being a boarding school in its final years, aboriginal children were still forced to attend.

The Kamloops Indian Residential School operated between 1893 and 1977. 

"The school remained open, even if it was no longer a residential school," Camille said about the school's final years. "It was kept open as a day school under the same staff and with the missionaries."

The Tk'emlúps Indian Band is part of the class action lawsuit against the Canadian government representing a group of "day scholars" -- aboriginal children who attended residential schools in the day, but went home at night.

The lawsuit was launched in August by 13 individuals representing over 200 aboriginal day school students from the Kamloops-based Tk'emlúps Indian Band and over 100 from the Sechelt First Nation.

Government commissioners have "marching orders"

"We try to deal with the commissioners of the residential schools [agreement], but they said they have their marching orders," Camille said, adding that her community have lobbied Department of Aboriginal Affairs to include the day scholars to little avail.

On the other hand, Camille said that the day scholars' class action suit has "total support" from the national Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and the BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN).

AFN national chief Shawn Atleo said in August that day scholars' requests for compensation from Ottawa have been refused for years.

"It was a government assertion that they didn't suffer the same as residential school survivors," Atleo said. "Whether day scholar or a resident, students received similar sorts of abuses and deep trauma."

However, those in charge of disbursing compensation have not responded to day scholars' appeals, Camille said. Instead, communities rely on the slow-moving wheels of the legal system to put their concerns on the official government agenda.

"Currently we're waiting for the Canadian government's statement of defence," said Len Marchand, the lawyer representing the day scholars class action suit in BC.

The Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs was not available to comment in time for publication on whether it planned on developing a separate compensation program for aboriginal day scholars.

(18:25) Update: Ministry spokeswoman Lesia Manchulenko responded to questions about compensating day scholars by citing directly the Ministry website's FAQ page. It states that claims related to foster care and day schools have to be pursued in court or settled on a case-by-case basis, and that former day school students can pursue abuse claims through the Independent Assessment Process (IAP).

She did not comment on whether the Ministry planned to develop a separate compensation program for aboriginal day scholars.

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