Less a cure than a treatment

By on May 2, 2000

Playing hockey at Pelican School, Sioux Lookout, Ont.

In a September 1999 statement on residential schools, the Anglican Church’s general secretary, Archdeacon Jim Boyles, said: "Individual ADR settlements are intended to reflect the amount that would have been given by a court, and the ADR process itself has a significant element of cost. As a result, we think ADR processes are not likely to be less expensive than litigation. The primary reason for entering ADR, we believe, is that it is less traumatic for the victim, and that it may offer some hope of restorative justice."

Macleod challenges the notion that ADR is as expensive as litigation, but adds that in situations concerning former residential-school students, ADR does "have the potential to do something meaningful in terms of addressing cultural differences." For this reason, the federal government, in association with churches, has identified 12 projects in which ADR is being pursued, according to the Justice Department. "We started down this road when we realized that litigation risked overrunning us," says Thompson of the ADR initiative that was launched in February of 1998. He estimates that ADR will address the concerns and claims of about 700 of the thousands of plaintiffs who have made claims against the government, but is quick to caution that ADR only works in certain situations. "If someone is only interested in compensation, then let’s go through the legal system," Thompson says. "But if you’re open to more than that – things like healing, the innovative use of resources, and benefits to a community – then the ADR process might be for you." ADR is less a cure than a treatment. "We have reached a number of settlements," says the AFN’s Hodgson, "but I don’t think that even settlements by themselves are enough. Closure is what’s needed."

For some, it comes when the prison door slams shut on the abuser; for others, it comes when their car skids off the highway at 100 km an hour or a train speeds past or the shotgun is laid down. For still others, the residential-school experience is a burden they will bear for the rest of their lives. "When I think of the things that went on there, it brings tears of sadness [knowing] that I didn’t do more," says Ed Bitternose, who worked at the Gordon’s Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan when he was a teenager. "As far back as 1970, I thought something was wrong," Bitternose explains, slouching into his chair as he speaks. At that time, the head administrator at the school, located some 150 km north of Regina, was William Starr, the man convicted of assaulting Ben Pratt and 10 others. "I’d send the kids to bed and come back at 10:30 or 11 that night and they would be up again," says Bitternose, a Native who now runs the reserve’s Brighter Futures outreach program. "[Starr] was taking the kids out of my responsibility, but I couldn’t say that he was doing anything wrong." People like Bitternose were youngsters themselves at the time abuses took place and were simply too scared or confused to step forward and say what they heard, saw or suspected.

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