In the next few months, compensation cheques for former First
Nation students who attended residential schools will start to roll into the
Mount Currie community as part of the Canada-wide Indian Residential School
But for many former students, the settlement represents much
more than money in the bank.
Some see it as closure to the horrific experiences they endured
at these schools, which were run by churches and funded by the federal
government from 1870 to the mid-1970s to “take the Indian out of the Indian”,
as former grand chief Matthew Coon Come once said. For others, the settlement
has resurrected memories of physical and sexual abuse that have been suppressed
“Some of them came and sat in my office and in 20 seconds they
were just in tears,
because it is something more to
them than just a piece of paper,”
Frank Wallace, a drug and alcohol counsellor in Mount Currie who has been
working with many former students on the settlement applications.
“It is a scary thing for them to finally let it out of the bag.
We have to be very aware that they are very sensitive in dealing with it. And
we have to deal with them the best we know how to get them to start to live
today without having to cry every night or sit at home worried,” he said.
The Indian Residential School Settlement is the largest class
action settlement in Canadian history. It involves $1.9 billion that the
government is making available in lump-sum payments to former students in
recognition of the horrific experiences endured while attending these schools.
Each survivor who applies will receive $10,000 for the first
year they attended, and $3,000 for every subsequent year. The average payment
is expected to be around $28,000.
Wallace, who also attended a residential school, said prior to
the agreement most survivors did not openly talk about their experiences.
“They’ve told family members or friends briefly, okay. But when
questioned somewhat, they say, ‘Oh I told my brother,’ or ‘I told my husband’.
That was it. And nothing more was said. Because they just don’t want anybody
else to know,” said Wallace.
“They are reluctant to come into my office, because they don’t
want to be heard. They don’t want their story out there. But some of them have
come forward and told their stories of their sexual abuse and other traumas,”
he said, adding that some survivors are too afraid to fill out the paper work.