Oct 8/98: Feds refuse to hold res school inquiry


Canadian Press
October 8, 1998
Janice Tibbetts

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts and/or context. It is provided for reference only.]

OTTAWA (CP) - The federal government is negotiating with aboriginals on a forum for victims of abuse at residential schools so they can publicly tell their stories of suffering, The Canadian Press has learned.

The plan falls short of a recommendation in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples for a full-scale inquiry into widespread sexual and physical abuse at the government sponsored schools before the last ones closed down in the 1980s.

Ottawa - and even some aboriginal leaders and residential school students - are wary of spending millions on an inquiry after the $58-million royal commission wracked up the biggest tab in Canadian history.

Indian Affairs Minister Jane Stewart responded to the commissions 1996 report by apologizing to residential school victims and putting up $350 million for a "healing fund" for counselling within aboriginal communities.

But the government is under growing pressure to come up with additional compensation for individual victims, some 1,400 of whom have filed lawsuits against Ottawa alleging sexual and physical abuse.

Negotiations for a process to allow victims to speak publicly are part of broader talks to try to settle lawsuits out of court, confirmed a government official and Phil Fontaine, Assembly of First Nations grand chief.

"When you live a life of denial and suppressing these sorts of things, a validation publicly of what happened is important," said Shawn Tupper, of the Department of Indian Affairs.

He warned however, the government is not talking about an inquiry.

The schools, run by churches, existed in every province but Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The royal commission report devoted more than 50 pages to the horrible experiences that many children suffered at the schools, set up to assimilate about 100,000 aboriginals into mainstream culture.

Fontaine, himself a victim of sexual and physical abuse at a Manitoba school, said he hopes to conclude a deal by Christmas.

"I am supportive of anything that will establish this experience as part of the public record," said Fontaine, who would not be more specific.

The grand chief of the country most powerful native group is torn between trying to cut a deal with Ottawa and appeasing hard-line aboriginals who think he was too soft when he openly embraced Stewart apology.

Marilyn Buffalo is one of several aboriginal leaders who think the apology was half-hearted because the government did not acknowledge blame.

Buffalo, the head of the Native Women's Association of Canada, wants Fontaine to push for a full inquiry with recommendations.

"The whole of Canada must know what happened there."

On Wednesday, Gordon Beardy, an Anglican bishop from northern Ontario, ended a two-month, 6,500-kilometre "healing march" when he arrived at Parliament Hill to focus attention on the plight of former students and their children.

"The healing starts by coming out with the terrible experience, said Beardy, who remembers students being stripped of their clothing and forced to parade around in their underwear.

Fontaine, who has a meeting with the Pope at the Vatican in November, said he will seek an apology from the Catholic Church for its role in running some of the schools on the federal government's behalf.

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