Tuesday, March 2, 1999 
Alberta Natives claim to be victims of 'Cultural genocide'.
 Government-run residential schools committed "cultural
genocide" against hundreds of Alberta Natives, say lawyers for
two large groups who are suing Ottawa.
Tony Merchant and Vaughn Marshall filed lawsuits last week in
Calgary on behalf of nearly 800 former residential
school students.
If they're successful, the federal government could be on the
hook for hundreds of millions in damages caused in the
educational facilities that ran from the 1920s to 1970s.
The suits filed by Marshall also claim damages against the
Catholic and Anglican churches, which ran schools on the Peigan
and Blood reserves in southern Alberta.
"The cultural abuse that took place ... was the attempted
eradication of the Blackfoot culture," Marshall said yesterday.
Marshall, who is seeking a minimum of $500,000 in damages for
each of his 362 clients, said the schools violated U. N. rules
against cultural genocide.
"Essentially, what the Canadian government sought to do was
assimilate the Blackfoot people," he said.
"The atmosphere that was created in the schools was one of
coercion, oppression and fear."
That assimilation included both physical and sexual abuse, said
Merchant, whose office of 40 lawyers in Western Canada
represents 2,000 Natives making claims.
"They beat the language out of these people and essentially told
them everything Indian was bad," Merchant said.
Merchant's firm launched nearly 400 actions last week to beat a
statute of limitations deadline.
Marshall filed four statements of claim for his 362 clients Friday
for the same reason.
Changes in the Limitations Act of Alberta, which came in to
effect yesterday, now bar lawsuits from being launched more than
10 years after a legal wrong occurs.
Merchant, who has not specified damages in any of the 550
claims he's made in Alberta, said his Cree and Chipewyan clients
were forced to eschew their cultural identities.
"They were punished if they spoke their language," he said.
"All of these people say the one thing I learned in school is
everything Indian is bad."
Along with physical and sexual abuse, students were segregated
by both sex and age, and isolated from their families both inside
and outside the schools.
"It was sort of Brave New World (teaching)," said Merchant.
He said the abuse was of a sexual nature for about a third of his
"The discipline gone wrong was often bizarre," he said.
"Many, many were subjected to varying kinds of sex abuse."
No statements of defence have been filed by any of the
defendants to the actions launched last week.
Merchant said in earlier claims the federal government has made
a blanket denial of responsibility.