Bands join residential school day student lawsuit
Organizers of a class-action lawsuit for day students of residential schools have successfully signed up twenty-six First Nations as plaintiffs. The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and Sechelt Day Scholar class lawsuit executive have until next Tuesday to sign up bands eligible to participate in the lawsuit under a June 2015 Federal Court decision. Entire bands are eligible if their members attended residential schools during the day and had a school on their territory. “Even though they didn’t sleep there, they were still subjected to the same injustices as those who did live there,” said coordinator Jo-Anne Gottfriedson in an interview this week.
The Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and Sechelt bands have been spearheading a legal process for attendees of residential schools who — unlike those included in a $1.9 billion settlement reached with the federal government in 2006 — didn’t sleep at the schools at night. Any person who was a day student at one of Canada’s 140 residential schools is automatically a part of the lawsuit unless they opt out. But, under the conditions spelled out by Justice Sean Harrington last June, entire communities can also join the lawsuits until February 29.
As of Monday, twenty-six First Nation bands have joined the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and Sechelt in the lawsuit, said Gottfriedson. The population of those bands ranges from 600 to 10,000 people, and includes bands in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, she said. There is no estimate on the total number of individuals involved. The lawsuit is seeking compensation over students’ loss of language and culture. The executive has not yet put a price tag on that compensation, said Gottfriedson.
“At this point, we’re still thinking about what that would look like,” she said.
Once next week’s deadline for band applications passes, the federal government will have to decide whether to move on to litigation or enter settlement negotiations, said Gottfriedson. The legal option could last up to four years, she said. The federal government is reviewing its litigation strategy in order to renew its relationship with indigenous peoples, said Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Canada spokesperson Michelle Perron in an email Wednesday. “It would be premature to speculate on how that review may impact this case,” wrote Perron in an email. Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde urged the federal government to enter talks for a settlement agreement.
“It’s huge,” said Bellegarde after attending a House of Commons committee meeting Tuesday. “The day scholars issue is a very legitimate issue.”
While not a part of the same legal process as the original residential school settlement, the day scholar lawsuit is just as important, said Bellegarda. “Even when dealing with residential schools, it’s unfortunate that it took a legal action to actually get a political result to the issue,” said Bellegarde. “The same thing is happening with the day scholars now, but it shouldn’t have to be that way because a lawsuit shouldn’t have to be that pressure.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools, which was set up as part of the original settlement, published its final report last June and made a lengthy list of recommendations. The Liberal government have promised to enact every recommendation. The day scholar lawsuit did receive a mention in the commission’s final report after the organizers met with commission chair Murray Sinclair, said Gottfriedson. Ottawa is facing other appeals for compensation related to residential schools.
The federal government is reviewing a legal tactic used to deny certain applicants to the original settlement, The Globe and Mail has reported. It’s also opened talks with indigenous peoplewho attended residential schools in Newfoundland & Labrador, who were not part of that settlement either.
For more information:
Assembly of First Nations
55 Metcalfe Street
Ottawa, ON K1P 6L5