On January 21st, the Government of Canada announced a historic settlement of $2.8 billion to compensate 325 Indigenous nations for the harms done to them as a result of the Indian Residential Schools system. This marks the first time in Canadian history that a community, rather than an individual, has been compensated for the harms caused by the government. The funds will be put into a trust dedicated to supporting the revival of language, culture, and heritage and promoting wellness for the affected nations.
The Indian Residential Schools system was a policy implemented by the Canadian government in the late 19th century with the goal of assimilating Indigenous children into European-Canadian society. Children were forcibly removed from their families and communities and sent to residential schools, where they were forbidden from speaking their own languages, practicing their own cultures, and were often subjected to severe abuse. The last residential school closed in 1996, but the impacts of this policy are still felt by Indigenous communities today.
The lawsuit that led to this settlement was brought forward by Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation and shíshálh First Nation more than a decade ago, with the support of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) on behalf of day scholars who were not eligible for the 2006 settlement granted to survivors who attended residential schools full-time. The suit was launched by former shíshálh Nation hiwus (Chief) Garry Feschuk and former Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc chief Shane Gottfriedson, and was referred to as the Gottfriedson Band Reparations Class Action.
“It has taken Canada far too long to own up to its history, own up to the genocide it committed and recognize the collective harm caused to our Nations by Residential Schools,” Feschuk said in a press release. “It is time that Canada not only recognize this harm but help undo it by walking with us. This settlement is a good first step.”
The settlement will apply to the 325 nations that opted into the Gottfriedson Band Reparations Class Action. Feschuk and Gottfriedson have been fighting for this settlement for more than a decade, and it has taken a toll on their health. However, they have both stated that they are pleased with the outcome and hope that it will help to undo the damage caused by the residential schools.