Abuse victims embrace payout

Leanne Dohy

Calgary Herald

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Kenneth Potts said he was sent to St. Cyprian residential school on the Piikani reserve in 1943, when he was seven years old. While Potts said he has made a good life since, the abuse he suffered at the school remains with him still

CREDIT: Mikael Kjellstrom , Calgary Herald

The federal government's compensation offer of more than $2 billion in payments and programs comes as a comfort to abuse victims of Alberta residential schools.

For Kenneth Potts, the agreement announced Wednesday will offer a bit of security in his retirement.

"We live paycheque to paycheque ," Potts, a Piikani native, said from his Calgary home. "The money that I'm going to get will be put to good use paying down the mortgage."

The deal, which must be approved in court, would likely be paid to the abuse victims by the end of 2006. It is open to the more than 80,000 former students of the schools -- whose average age is 60 -- and includes $10,000 plus $3,000 for each year spent in the system.

Those who suffered abuse will receive additional compensation that could range into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now 69, Potts was seven years old when his parents were ordered to deliver him to St. Cyprian's school. That day is seared in his memory.

"My dad reluctantly took me to the school because they told him the law would come after him if he said no," Potts said. "When the parents left, they took me and bathed me in some kind of solution, then cut off all my hair, so I was bald."

Speaking Blackfoot was forbidden, and Potts said he was frequently beaten.

"We were abused all the time," Potts said. "When we were sitting in school, they would whack us over the head with these sticks, pointers that they used in reading."

When he was nine years old, Potts was shifted from full-day school to half days, working the afternoons on farms without pay. He left St. Cyprian's in 1952 after nine years of schooling.

"I had nothing to show for it."

He worked on area farms, and fell in to alcoholism. Thirty years ago, he swore off drinking and hasn't touched spirits since.

His two daughters are educated and grown, and a source of pride.

"They've done good ," he said.

He's grateful for the work of his lawyers over the past decade. "They're not quitters, you know?" Potts said. "They kept at it, all this time."

Potts is one of 620 claimants represented by the Calgary firm of Ruston Marshall.

Partner Vaughn Marshall was elated by the announcement.

"I've always seen this case as one for the ages," Marshall said. "I'm hopeful that it will lead to a transformation in aboriginal relations."

"With the boarding schools," he said, "we're talking about something that was happening for over a century, enduring, unrelenting, affecting generation after generation."

The Calgary Herald 2005