In last Wednesday's
editorial, the Calgary Herald questioned the wisdom of the federal
government's not foreclosing former students of Canada's Indian residential
schools who choose to resolve their residential school abuse claims in the
government's alternative dispute resolution program from later pursuing court
cases for possible redress for language and culture loss.
The ADR program will
provide some compensation for sexual and serious physical abuse, but won't
redress damage caused by destruction of the language and culture of
aboriginals, the failure to provide them a useful education promised by the
treaties, or the systemic neglect aboriginals endured throughout the
century-long residential school system. This failure to redress the
fundamental evil of the system which attacked their very being, harmed
generations of aboriginals, crippling their communities and causing economic
loss to all, is not acceptable to them. Aboriginals should be compensated for
these losses in the ADR program and not have to take their claims to court
Until the mid-1970s,
every aboriginal child was forced to attend a residential school for up to 10
years. Aboriginal children lived in these institutions for 10 months a year,
with little contact with their families.
For as long as they were
confined in these "schools", aboriginal children were held captive
in the poisonous atmosphere of these government-imposed racist institutions
of assimilation foisted on them for the specific purpose of driving the "Indian"
out of every one of them, where their beliefs, language and culture were
systematically attacked, vilified and demonized daily.
The system was
deliberately aimed at children, the most vulnerable and least powerful of the
most underprivileged and marginalized group in Canada, with the full
knowledge that aboriginal children would be the most susceptible victims of
the racist agenda of the government and churches to eradicate aboriginal
language, culture and spirituality from the face of Canada.
The prohibition against
children speaking their mother tongue was generally destructive to their
sense of identity and particularly damaging for aboriginal people whose oral
cultures use language as the medium to create, sustain and transmit their
world view from generation to generation.
Removing the children
from their families, preventing them from speaking their language and denying
them occasions to express their culture through language and associated
rituals was a powerful attack on the personal, cultural and spiritual
identity of all aboriginal people.
Aboriginal children in
residential schools suffered an especially damaging form of abuse. Denied
their language and culture and isolated from their families, they were
deprived of emotional and other support that could have assisted them in
trying to cope in these institutions.
The damaging effect of
the suppression of language and culture multiplied with each generation and
the loss that ensued typically led to psychological disorientation and
spiritual crises among aboriginal people throughout their lives.
Many were never able to
regain their bearings in life and were left unable to assume responsible
positions as mothers, fathers and community members.
To the commission, how a
court might handle these claims was beside the point because the critical
consideration was a program to compensate the full range of harms that
occurred in these institutions.
Courts already recognize
emotional and psychological harm as compensable anyway and their confinement
in a residential school for up to 10 years obviously caused aboriginal
children such damage.
The failure to remedy the
destructive impact of this century-long assault on the very essence of
aboriginal Canadians will render the ADR program unjust and cost Canadian
taxpayers more in the long run.
To be acceptable to
Vaughn Marshall is a
His firm represents about
600 alleged abuse victims.
Vaughn Marshall examines
the issue in greater detail. Follow this
for the complete article posted on
the Herald's website.