Canada settles $2 billion lawsuit alleging ‘cultural genocide’ at residential schools

OTTAWA — Canada said on Saturday it agreed to pay CA$2.8 billion, about $2 billion, to settle the latest in a series of lawsuits seeking redress for harm indigenous peoples have suffered peoples through a system of compulsory boarding schools that a national commission has dubbed “cultural genocide.”

The new settlement, which has yet to be approved by a court, resolves a class action lawsuit brought by 325 First Nations in 2012 who were looking for compensation for the erosion of their cultures and languages.

Thousands of Indigenous students who were educated at some 130 boarding schools from the 19th century to the 1990s were forbidden, sometimes by coercion, to speak their ancestral languages ​​and practice their traditions.

Indigenous children were sometimes forcibly taken from their families and sent to schools, which were largely run by churches.

In 2021, Canadians were shocked by evidence of unmarked graves containing the remains of 215 former students on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Evidence of the graves was discovered using ground-penetrating radar. Subsequently searches at other former schools have found similar possible burial sites. Thousands of students are believed to have died in the schools from disease, malnutrition, neglect, accidents, fires and violence.

If approved, the new agreement will be the fifth major legal settlement affecting the schools since a 2006 agreement provided compensation for alumni and established a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission examined the education system, heard testimonies from former students and issued a long list of recommendations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to fully implement. With the latest agreement, the government will have provided a total of approximately CA$10 billion in restitution.

“The hostel settlement has left a lot of unfinished business,” said Marc Miller, the Minister for Indigenous Relations, in an interview referring to the 2006 accord. “Part of this was the plaintiff’s very legitimate argument that there was a collective kind of damage to language, culture and heritage and this devastation caused by successive government policies.”

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, who discovered the remains on the Kamloops Indian Residential School site in 2006, were among the parties to the current lawsuit.

“Canada has spent over 100 years destroying our languages ​​and cultures through boarding schools,” Kúkpi7, or boss Rosanne Casimir, of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc said in a statement. “Our nations will go to incredible lengths to restore our languages ​​and cultures – this agreement gives nations the resources and tools needed to get off to a good start.”

Under the agreement, the government will pay the settlement into a trust fund that indigenous communities can use for educational, cultural and language programs. It will also be used to develop projects to support former students and help them “reconnect to their heritage,” the government said in a statement.

The full agreement will be published later. Canada’s federal court is scheduled to hold a hearing in late February in which it is expected to approve the settlement.

While the government settled part of the lawsuit in 2021, the main part of the case should go to trial. Mr Miller, the Minister for Indigenous Relations, said the Government had decided last autumn that it was better to negotiate a settlement than go to court and fight the arguments in an “opposite environment”.

“Sit down at a table, think about how we’re making progress and think about how we’re going to use financial resources,” he said of the federal cabinet’s considerations on the decision. “Not that they can fully replace the damage done – far from it.” Canada settles $2 billion lawsuit alleging ‘cultural genocide’ at residential schools

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