A federal court in Ottawa has ruled that church- and state-operated Indian Day Schools in the Great Lakes region owe monetary settlements to students who were abused and mistreated in their care.
The class-action settlement approved by the court affects the Six Nations and Mississauga of the Credit First Nations in south-central Ontario. It covers more than 700 schools classified as “Indian Day Schools,” affecting nearly 200,000 Indigenous children. (Although the use of the term “Indian” to refer to North America’s First Peoples is generally considered outdated, participants in the case chose to preserve the terminology used at the time as a reflection of the stark racism underlying the abuse students endured.)
Many of the Indian Day Schools were operated by religious institutions, notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, and the United Church of Canada. However, government-run Indian Day Schools also existed.
All former students of the schools in question are eligible for a base compensation of CAD $10,000 (USD $7,523), while those who suffered physical or sexual abuse in the schools may be eligible for additional compensation up to CAD $200,000 ($150,468).
The decision mandates an additional sum of CAD $200 million ($150,468,000) be set aside in a Legacy Fund to finance community recovery projects, such as health and wellness initiatives or cultural preservation efforts combatting historical attempts to eradicate Indigenous culture. The Legacy Fund is meant to acknowledge the ways in which the harms of targeted, racialized abuse go beyond individual victims to profoundly impact the entire community.Like residential schools, these institutions are representative of troublingly recent Canadian history. While Indian Day Schools date back to the latter half of the 19th century, multiple schools covered by the settlement were still in operation as recently as the 1990s.
Canada’s Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett, hopes that the settlement will play a role in healing Canada’s legacy of racism towards its Indigenous inhabitants:
The mistreatment of Indigenous children is a tragic and shameful part of Canada’s history that has had devastating effects on generations of families… Today’s Federal Court decision is a recognition of the hard work undertaken by all sides toward finding a lasting and meaningful resolution for former students of Federal Indian Day Schools and their families. The advocacy, perseverance, and commitment of survivors of Federal Indian Day Schools to right past wrongs will not be forgotten.
The advocacy of which she speaks began in 2009, when Indian Day School survivor Garry McLean began seeking compensation for those forced to attend federally-run Indian Day Schools (as distinct from residential schools, which were addressed in a 2006 settlement). Tragically, McLean himself did not live to see his case resolved; he died at the age of 67 this past February.
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