Trust. Integrity. Reputation.

 

SURVIVORS ORGANIZING

Government position under attack

 

Windspeaker  -  February 2, 2004; p. 9.

 

By Paul Barnsley

Staff Writer

 

CALGARY: The Canadian government’s official position that it won’t compensate for the loss of language and culture of those who attended Indian residential schools is under attack from all sides;

Lawyer Vaughn Marshall of Calgary represents residential school survivors in southern Alberta. He and other lawyers are working to expose what they see as a self-serving and ultimately indefensible stance by the federal Crown.


Calgary lawyer Vaughn Marshall

 

Marshall briefed a two-day organizational meeting held in Calgary involving a number of prominent residential school survivors on January 12 and 13.

The group consisted of Chief Robert Joseph and Sharon Thira of British Columbia’s First Nations Summit residential school unit; Mike Cachagee and Shirley Horn of the Shingwauk survivors group based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.; Ray Mason and Mel Swan of Manitoba’s Spirit Wind survivors group; Ted Quewezance, a former Keeseekoose First Nation chief who advises the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations on residential school issues; Yvonne Stiel,  special advisor t to the AEN on residential schools, and Dolly Creighton and Gerri Many Fingers of the Blood Tribe in Alberta.

All gathered to formulate a plan to start up a national organization that will represent former students who want a voice at the national level.

The Assembly of First Nations’ specialist on residential school issues, Basil Quewezance, and former Manitoba vice chief Ken Young, now a legal advisor to the national chief, also attended.

Marshall and Phil Lane, Jr., international coordinator of the Lethbridge, Alta.-based Four Worlds International Institute for Human and Community Development; were invited to speak to the group.

Lane said the government will only be making trouble for itself if the language and culture issues are not addressed.

“If they don’t address them, these issues will grow to be monumental and the government will end up spending far, far more money in the long run.”

He said he was approached about becoming one of the 32 alternative dispute resolution (ADR) adjudicators that will decide on compensation for survivors who opt not to pursue their claims in court. After careful consideration, he refused. Lane said advice from Elders made the decision easy:

“They said don’t take the job or any other job involved with that process because if you do, your name will go down in history as one of the destroyers of our people,” he said.

He pointed out that almost $800 million has been set aside to administer the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada, the federal department tasked with operating the ADR process, and yet only about 30 people across the country have signed up for ADR.

Marshall sees an opportunity to embarrass the government into listening.

“With ADR not catching on as the government had hoped and with an election coming in April, this is an opportune time for publicity,” he said.

The lawyer said the certification of the Baxter class action case, which seeks to get a mammoth claim for culture and language loss in front of a judge, will apply even more pressure.

“Everything that pushes Baxter closer to certification puts more pressure on the government,” he said. “Our sources say they are scared of Baxter. Certification is loading the rifle.”

Mr. Justice Warren K. Winkler, the Ontario Superior Court judge who is presiding over the certification hearings, has said that certification seems inevitable.

Marshall said that will be the killing blow for the government’s position.

Loss of culture claims  have been misunderstood by government,” he said.       

He has enlisted the aid of respected U.S. academic George D. Spindler, professor emeritus of education and anthropology at Stanford University, [and other prominent experts], to make the point that our cultural underpinnings provide the mind-map which we require in order to have at least a chance of successfully navigating our way in the society into which we are being prepared to participate.

“Dr. Spindler says the loss of culture in the schools meant there was no mind map imprinted in their brains. What chance did they have when the imprinting that would have allowed them to lead successful lives was prevented from ever taking root” said Marshall.

As the meeting began, Ted Quewezance took on the matter of being a survivor and a politician at the same time. Although the AFN has agreed to work with the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada, Quewezance admitted the office’s alternative dispute resolution process has been causing concern.

“I have a major, major concern with the [ADR] adjudication process,” he said. “It’s a touchy area. Is it right for us as survivors to be telling our leaders it’s a right process? It’s a wrong process. The national chief said it’s a start and I guess it is. They say they’re going to start with: the sick and elderly and that’s probably a good thing. I’ve got Elders in their 80s that are so sick and tired of waiting. They’re already planning their deaths and they want something.”

Although he has dealt with the sexual abuse he experienced from age five to 11 at school and has moved past the anger, Quewezance said he has another major problem with the history that he can’t just put behind him.

“From the 18th century on wards, the government tried to do away with us,” he said. “How do you forgive that?”

He said he had a responsibility to advise the national chief and wondered what he should say.

“I ask every one of you in this room. Are we selling out here? To be honest, I am compromising the survivors if I go out and sell this program 100 per cent because I know deep in my heart that the government is not dealing with the real, real issues. There is a total flaw in the process,” he said.

Survivors are incensed that the government is saying publicly it’s prepared to atone for and deal with the sins of the past when it refuses to even look at the harm that might be the most damaging and cost the most to compensate.

Creighton advocated a bottom- up approach for the new organization. She suggested that a minimal charge - $ 10 was the figure she used - for a membership fee would give the members a sense of ownership. It would also be a symbol of the survivors giving consent to the organization to talk on their behalf.

As the group members worked to anticipate potential trouble spots and suggest possible solutions that would help the new organization avoid them, a lot of issues got kicked around.

There are a -number of survivor groups operating independently across the country Some group members suggested those groups would not consent to be governed by a national body. The group seemed to a consensus that the local organizations must have input into the regional organizations that would make up the national organization.

The issue of finding was also raised.

Ted Quewezance said many band councils and tribal councils get government Binding to deal with residential school issues. They might see a new organization as a threat to that funding, he said.

“Would we be taking funding away from anybody? Probably not. But that’s the way the feds operate. You all know that,” he said.

“Yeah,” said Ray Mason. “They’ll just cut the pie smaller.”

Ted Quewezance pointed out that Indian Residential Schools Canada has a $1.7 billion budget.

“They spent $47 million in nine months and do you think we can get a dime cut of them?” he asked.

Ken Young briefed the meeting on other recent developments.

He mentioned the latest appeal in the Blackwater case that decided the government was 100 per cent responsible for the sexual abuse experienced by students at the Port Alberni Indian Residential School. Since the government has announced that it will pay only 70 per cent of settlements and leave victims to collect the remaining 30 per cent from the churches “the ADR has to be changed’ to comply with that court decision, Young said.

Young told the group the AFN was not blind to the limitations of the ADR process.

“We know it’s bad but we need to get on-with the claims of the elderly and the sick, ”he said.

Young said the Anglican church had $25 million set aside to pay compensation and that the Presbyterian church had set aside $2.3 million. Conversations between AFN and church officials had led him to believe that that money would be made available to survivors even if the court ruling in Blackwater stands, he said, adding that the United and Catholic churches have not set aside money nor made similar promises.

Young said the “quite lengthy” 56 page application form required to enter the ADR process required the training of people to assist the survivors in filling the forms out.

He would have liked to see a central process to train those people that was controlled by the AFN but the government had farmed out contracts to groups around the country. The group worried that the jobs created in this process would not go to Native people.

Young was hopeful that new Justice Minister Irwin Cottler would see the wisdom in not appealing the Blackwater ruling to the Supreme Court. He said University of Calgary law professor Kathleen Mahoney, a former AFN legal advisor and current board member of the Centre for Rights and Democracy, had been lobbying Cottler, a respected international human rights lawyer and law professor at McGill University before he entered federal politics, to not appeal the case.

“Irwin Cottler of all people should understand our position,” Young said.

The group worked out the de tails of selecting an interim board, which will then be able to over see the establishment of the organization. Each region will have representation, and protocols for working with the national Métis and Inuit political organizations will be developed.

Cachagee volunteered to be the one to receive applications from those interested in being considered for an interim board position. He is the director of the Shingwauk Alumni Council. His mailing address is 1520 Queen Street East, Sault Ste. Marie, ON, P6A 2G4.

The group’s next meeting is March 2 and 3 in Winnipeg.

 

Paul Barnsley

Senior Writer

 


Trust. Integrity. Reputation.