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Inuit to share $2 billion settlement

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Nov 28/05) - Survivors of residential schools are taking the announcement of $1.9 billion in settlement with little excitement.

On the other hand, Inuit organizations and a lawyer for a large group of survivors are praising the package.

NNSL Photo/graphic

The federal government estimates there are 80,000 former students alive today. There were about 13,000 claims and lawsuits before the government and courts, about 2,800 of which have been resolved.

  • $10,000 for everyone who attended a residential school, plus $3,000 for each year they attended;
  • $125 million for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, which supports programs designed to help former students;
  • $8,000 in advance payments for those over 65;
  • an improved plan to deal with claims of sexual and physical abuse;
  • $60 million for public education and to provide a venue for former students to share their stories; and
  • $10 million for events and memorials that commemorate the schools.
  • accepting the payment releases the government of Canada from all future liability, except for cases of sexual abuse and the most serious cases of abuse.

    Source: Government of Canada residential school agreement in principle

  • Eddie Amagonalok of Cambridge Bay went to residential school for four years. That means he is entitled to $19,000 in compensation. He isn't too excited about the money, Amagonalok is more interested in the healing part of the formula.

    "A lot of people lost their language and culture, it hurt a lot of us," said Amagonalok.

    He would like to see some of the other money used for training people to help former residential school students.

    "We need a treatment centre. There are a lot of people that are still suffering. I wish that had of been available for me. I've worked hard for the past 15 years to get a grip on what happened to me. I need to live the rest of my life, to get myself well," said Amagonalok.

    Roy Goose left home in 1954. The Roman Catholic bishop arrived by plane in his hometown of Holman. Goose's brother was going to residential school, and even though Goose was only four years old, where his brother went, he followed.

    Goose, who has now lived in Cambridge Bay for two years, didn't see his family again until 1961. The Inuvialuit considers himself one of the lucky ones. "I was one of the few that wasn't touched or bothered, but there was mental abuse and cultural abuse," said Goose. "We became tougher than tough with our emotions."

    He compared residential school to his military basic training. "Basic training was like Sunday afternoons in residential school, when we got time off," said Goose.

    The offer of money from the government wasn't appealing to him.

    "At first, I was disgusted with the government offer of money. I reconciled that this is the way a huge government says that they are sorry," said Goose.

    Goose would like to see the money designated for healing to help regain what was lost in the residential school system.

    "We need programs that can de-program boomers like myself. We've lived all our lives wondering why we are the way we are. We need to appreciate what have, our family and culture. We need to put our feelings out in the open and get rid of them," said Goose.

    Parents of the students also suffered trauma, having their children taken from them. There is no compensation in the agreement for them.

    "I really wish my mother and father were here to get that money. They suffered greatly when I was taken away. We were forcibly removed from our summer camp," said Peter Irniq, the former commissioner of Nunavut and attended residential schools for six years. For that time, he is entitled to a minimum of $25,000, baring any other claims.

    "It is a good gesture and it will lead to healing and reconciliation. All Canadians have a right to know what happened to us," said Irniq.

    Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.(NTI), Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC), and the Makivik Corporation have been working together to make sure all Inuit survivors are compensated. They are confident the proposed process is sound.

    "This settlement will help us begin to heal and move on with our lives. It brings closure to one of Canada's great injustices," said Paul Kaludjak, president of NTI.

    "The present government's willingness to address this grave historical legacy, as well as the Assembly of First nations commitment to the issue is to be commended," said Makavik president Pita Aatami.

    Steven Cooper - a lawyer who represents more than 400 residential school students mostly from the Arctic - had been quarrelling with the three Inuit organizations over who should be representing the students. He agrees with the groups, and is supporting the agreement.

    "This was worth every day and every dollar we spent over the last seven years fighting for justice for our clients," said Cooper.

    Former students who suffered sexual or serious physical abuse will still have legal avenues to pursue, and Cooper is ready to represent his clients.

    "We will guide our clients through a much better system for individual harm compensation," said Cooper.

    Lawyers for the victims will not be receiving any money from the general common experience payments.

    According to Cooper, anyone who has a lawyer will receive a 15 per cent bonus on their settlement. The contingency fee - paid to a lawyer only upon settlement of a claim - is 20 per cent.