ACIP co-chair Rev. Gloria Moses
Bishops and chancellors of Canada’s 30 Anglican dioceses have expressed “strong support” for the revised Indian residential schools settlement agreement and are prepared to endorse its approval before their respective governing bodies, which are expected to meet in February.
Acting General Secretary Ellie Johnson said government negotiators have agreed to accept, by Jan. 31, a letter from each diocesan bishop or chancellor stating that they are recommending approval of the agreement to either their diocesan councils or synods. Authoritative bodies of each diocese are expected to give their final decision by the end of February.
“There was quite unanimous support for the amendments being proposed given the fact that we haven’t completely finished fine-tuning (the agreement with the government),” said Ms. Johnson, who conferred in conference calls in early January with bishops, diocesan officials, members of the Council of General Synod (CoGS) and representatives of the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples (ACIP). “We did not hear any major objections and we’re encouraged by that.”
Ms. Johnson said dioceses “are aware that the amendments are beneficial to them” since “our overall cap will be reduced” and there will be more money for the Aboriginal Healing Fund.
Under the revised agreement the Anglican Church of Canada’s $25 million cap on liability in residential schools litigation would likely be reduced to “under $16 million,” said Ms. Johnson, adding that the exact figures and details of the agreement have not been finalized. In 2003, the federal government and the Anglican church negotiated an agreement with the $25 million cap but a clause in that agreement allows the church to reopen its negotiations since a deal reached recently by the Roman Catholic church is more favorable. Last November, the government announced it would compensate all students who were part of the national boarding school system aimed at educating native children. Also announced was an agreement that would release Roman Catholic entities that ran schools from legal liability, but would commit them to funding $54 million in healing programs for aboriginals.
Ms. Johnson said common questions raised by dioceses during the consultation included: Would dioceses, which have fully paid into the Settlement Fund, be entitled to a refund? What will happen to the agreement if the government changes (following the Jan. 23 election)? Would dioceses continue to have the same legal protection under the 2003 agreement?
“We told them yes, there are dioceses that have overpaid and they will be entitled to a refund … But we can’t send the refunds until all the approval process is completed,” said Ms. Johnson. The final agreement needs approval from the Cabinet and seven Canadian courts, and would most likely become effective in late 2006.
Ms. Johnson also explained that if any party does not approve the amended agreement, the Anglican church and the federal government would simply revert back to the March 2003 agreement. She said that some dioceses had questions about the “opt-out clause” in the new agreement, which states that if 5,000 or more claimants decide not accept the Common Experience Payment provided for in the agreement, it becomes null and void. “We don’t anticipate it happening, but if it does, we’ll simply go back to the March 2003 agreement. There’s still that protection,” she said.
ACIP, meanwhile, asked whether it was possible to ask government to reduce the age of natives entitled to advanced payment from 65 to 55, citing Statistics Canada figures that aboriginals have lower life spans than average Canadians.
“Some are very ill, whether it’s the issue of addictions or the effects of having attended residential schools,” said Rev. Gloria Moses, ACIP co-chair, in a telephone interview. She also said that the agreement must also address the effects of the residential schools on younger indigenous people, whose parents went to boarding schools.
ACIP also wants the release of school attendance records speeded up to hasten the application process for those applying for claims. It also expressed concern about lack of communication on the part of government in relaying details of the revised agreement to native communities.
Ms. Moses also stressed that government must address the issue of accountability, citing that in some instances, funds set aside for the Aboriginal Healing Fund do not benefit the residential schools survivors. “I’m concerned about the extra money for the Aboriginal Healing Fund because some of it has been mismanaged. People managing it were never accountable,” she said. “I’m concerned that people are making money out of my pain.”
Ms. Moses, of Merrit, B.C., attended St. George’s Indian residential school in Lytton, B.C., for 10 years.