Good note: Residential School Agreement

OTTAWA (CP) - A final deal has been reached that will offer about $2 billion in compensation and healing programs for former students of native residential schools.

"The government will now immediately consider the settlement agreement and the interim payments and the timing of those payments," Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said Tuesday in the Commons.

The deal must be cleared by cabinet, a formality that's expected within days. It must then be approved by courts in several provinces.

If upheld and accepted by enough survivors, the agreement would allow about 78,000 people to apply for compensation. Many are over age 65 and living in poverty.

The money could allow Louise Moine, 101, to return home to Val Marie, Sask., from her care home in Ponteix.

"She has nothing," said her daughter Jacquie Richards. "All she wants to do is go home."

"I feel happy," said Moine, who wrote a book about her experiences in the Qu'Appelle Industrial School in Lebret, Sask. "What else can I say? It's pretty good."

Payments are not expected before early next year even if the legal process goes smoothly.

Prentice has been pressured by opposition critics and survivors' groups to offer advance or fast-track cheques as promised last November when an interim deal was announced by the former Liberal government.

Hundreds of former students have died waiting for such a gesture.

Those who are sick or over age 65 were told last fall that they could apply to receive $8,000 even before the agreement is finalized by the courts.

That interim deal offered all former students of the once-mandatory network of live-in schools $10,000 plus another $3,000 for each year they attended.

Descendants of those who died after May 30, 2005 - when Ottawa appointed former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to help negotiate a settlement - could also apply.

Sources say the new final agreement also proposes funding for healing and education programs and for a truth and reconciliation forum to allow survivors to tell their stories.

The federal government admitted in 1998 that abuse in the schools meant to educate and "Christianize" native kids was rampant.

More than 13,000 plaintiffs have since sued Ottawa and the Catholic, Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches that once ran the institutions.

While some defend the educational benefits of the now defunct schools, their sorry history has long been cited by native leaders struggling with epidemic rates of alcoholism, drug addiction and sexual abuse.

Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was one of the first public figures to tell his own story of sexual and physical abuse at the Fort Alexander School in Manitoba.

He welcomed Prentice's announcement Tuesday.

"When I went public with my own experience in 1990, I knew that any efforts to resolve the legacy of the residential schools would have to involve not only compensation, but healing and reconciliation as well."

Those who take the lump-sum payments would release the government and the churches that ran the schools from further legal liability, except in the worst instances of sexual and physical abuse.

In those cases, an improved out-of-court settlement process to be overseen by independent adjudicators was proposed by the interim deal.

Compensation is in part meant to derail more than 21 class-action lawsuits alleging billions of dollars in damages. Many such cases were expected to bog down in court for 10 years or more.

A settlement deal would also pay off dozens of lawyers who have worked for years on related files with little compensation.

For example, a consortium of 20 law firms that led the largest national class-action was expected to receive about $40 million under the interim deal.

Those lawyers point out that the Department of Justice spent an estimated $80 million to $100 million fighting related litigation for the government.

Finally, something good. The agreement was completed by the Libs, but the conservatives are the ones to sign the deal with Native survivors. Out of all they have done so far, which is not much, except tabling the Federal Accountability Act, this is something good.

However, it is still sickening to think that people believe that the schools had educational benefits, its kind of like the Holocaust never occured and neglects all the pain and suffering and the cultural genocide the church and the government tried to do on these native people.
I would think it appropriate to thank the Honourable Jim Prentice , P.C. , M.P. , the Member for Calgary Centre-North and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development , for his agreement with the appropriate parties in relation to this sensitive issue. I commend the Government of Canada for having taken these steps to further an endeavour to make peace with those who had been affected by these tragic institutions.

I hope that one day while keeping in mind that we can never forget the dark mistakes of our past, lest they be repeated we can turn the page on this tragedy, and move on to a new chapter of friendship, co-operation and unity with our First Nations people here in Canada .

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