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

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

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

Thousands of Indigenous students who were educated in around 130 boarding schools from the 19th century to the 1990s were sometimes forcibly forbidden from speaking their ancestral languages ​​and practicing their traditions.

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

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

If approved, the new settlement will be the fifth major legal settlement affecting the schools since a 2006 settlement provided compensation for alumni and established a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission examined the education system, heard testimony 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 about CA $ 10 billion in restitution.

“The hostel solution left a lot of unfinished business,” said Marc Miller, the Minister for Indigenous Relations, in an interview referring to the 2006 agreement. “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, which discovered the remains on the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in 2006, were among the parties in the current lawsuit.

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

According to the agreement, the government will pay the settlement into a trust fund that the indigenous communities can use for educational, cultural and linguistic programs. It will also be used to develop projects to support former students and help them “reconnect with 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 will settle part of the case in 2021, the main part of the case should go to trial. Mr. Miller, the Minister for Indigenous Relations, said that the Government decided last autumn that it was better to negotiate a solution than to go to court and fight the arguments in an “opposite environment”.

“Sit down at a table, think about how we are making progress and think about how we will use the financial resources,” he said about the considerations of the federal cabinet on the decision. “Not that they can fully replace the damage done – far from it.”


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