Deadline looms for First Nations, Métis & Inuit

Feature/First Nations

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Honour drumming in memory of Residential School children

For some First Nations people, memories bring back a reality of life ... a life as they knew it that was taken away to impose a new way of living.

On the weekend of September 8th - 9th, Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) held a weekend of Truth and Reconciliation ... 'Minjimendaamin' or 'We Will Remember'.  The weekend was held as part of a national healing to recognize the sad legacy of the Residential Schools throughout Canada.

In the 1800s, the Canadian government of the time thought it best that the country's aboriginal peoples be educated and assimilated into the 'european' way of life and established schools that would do that in order by completely abolishing everything 'native' in the children.

An 'aggressive assimilation' program saw government agents remove children, aged four to 16 from their homes and take them to the new 'boarding' schools.  Although federally operated by the Department of Indian Affairs, they were given over to be run by churches.  All native children were forced to attend and they were given no choice.

At the beginning, approximately 1,100 students were forced to attend 69 schools but, by 1931, there were 80 schools in Canada and then, finally there were approximately 130.

Almost 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their homes and communities and forced into the schools where many experienced severe physical and sexual abuse.   They were also forced to speak either English or French and, if caught speaking their 'first' language they would be severely punished.

The children of residential schools lived away from 'home' for 10 months of the year in below standard living conditions and, once they returned home, they no longer spoke the language or understood family.

Siblings from the same family would separated from each other by gender and students often became ashamed of their native heritage.  Saugeen First Nations had 90 children removed by the government and taken to schools in Spanish on the north shore of Lake Huron and to Manitoba.  Some returned home, some didn't - dying at school.  On Saturday, red ribbons for those children removed from Saugeen and Cape Croker were tied on cedar trees that will be planted in their memory.

The government has, over the years, worked with the Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches to design a plan to compensate the former students with a formal $1.9 billion compensation package being arrived at.

The compensation, 'Common Experience Payments' (CEP) package was made available for those residential students were still living as of May 30, 2005.  Former students were eligible for $10,000 for the first year or part of a year in one of the schools plus $3,000 for each subsequent year.

As of April, 20120 there were 75,800 cases with $1.55 billion paid out.

Acceptance of the CEP payment automatically releases the government and churches from any future liability relating to the residential schools, except in cases of severe sexual or physical abuse.

The two-day SON event featured many moving moments, including the 'honour drumming' and survivor stories by those brave enough to recount them.

Pastor Ron Johnson

Pastor Ron Johnson of Cape Croker said, "There are so many pages in the history of the residential schools taht cannot be touched on in only two days but it is important to open our hearts.  My uncle Wilmur Nadjewan was a victim as was my wife and, yet, she still fortunately speaks our language."  

Kevin Hart, minister at Saugeen Wesley Church, gave a moving tribute to the survivors on behalf of the United Church.

Kevin Hart

"I am on a journey of learning and am beginning to know the story of the European colonization of this land and the stories of aboriginal and First Nations peoples ... it was troubling for me to learn of the assimilation policy that the Government of Canada and the Crown imposed on First Nations peoples.  We hear these stories of trying to take the identity of First Nations away and to impose a new identity with the purpose of civilizing and 'christianizing' the First Nations peoples of these lands.  The churches were coopted by the government and volunteered to run the Residential Schools and enforce the policy, perhaps with an agenda of their own.  I pray that through what we share here today and tomorrow we may come to celebrate our differences and the things that bind us in friendship and respect."

Joan Malloy

Joan Malloy of the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) said that deadline of September 19th for applications for compensation is fast approaching.  "The Federal Government imposed a deadline of five years so that, in the long term, it would have to pay out fewer dollars.  It expected anyone wanting to make an application would do so within five years and many of the students are now elderly and many have died.  Unfortunately, however, many survivors of residential schools still cannot talk about their experiences let alone come out to publicly make an application."

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Every red ribbon represents a Residential School child of Saugeen and Cape Croker First Nations

Chief Randall Kaghee places a ribbon for babies as Lori Kewaquom and survivor, Basil Johnson look on

Malloy encourages anyone who may qualify to make an application before the deadline. 

For more information before the September 19th deadline call:  1-866-879-4913

For Application Form: Click Here

In Spanish, the Residential School did not close until with the last one in Canada not closing until 1996. 

Hard to believe.

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Friday, September 14, 2012