The new plan to compensate all former students of Indian residential schools represents an acknowledgment by the federal government that native culture and languages were harmed by the now-defunct educational system, said former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, who negotiated the plan on behalf of Ottawa.
The so-called “common experience payment” represents a change by the government “to recognize the kind of deprivation students suffered at the schools,” he said in an interview after giving Council of General Synod (CoGS) an inside look at the talks that led to an agreement last November among Ottawa, churches and native groups.
The payment is not a direct admission of harm by the government because no court has recognized “loss of language and culture” as a basis for legal action, he noted. But it is an “very deep issue for native people,” he acknowledged.
Archdeacon Sidney Black, co-chair of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, said that “for us, as survivors of the schools, it is indeed good news, in the most spiritual expression of receiving good news.”On May 10, the government gave final approval to the agreement and launched an advance payment program that provides an immediate $8,000 for elderly former students.
Earlier in the spring, the church expressed concern when the recently-elected Conservative government indicated it might not honour the previous Liberal government’s commitment to the advance payment. The common experience payment starts at $10,000 for the first year of attendance at a native boarding school and adds $3,000 for each year thereafter.
The Anglican church’s lawyer, John Page, also addressed CoGS, noting that the agreement also must be approved by courts in nine jurisdictions where class action lawsuits have been filed on behalf of former students. It is expected that the courts will decide by spring, 2007.