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Settlement reached on residential school 'day scholars' class-action lawsuit

Lower Post, Sturgeon Lake included in settlement
Carolyn Bennett 2
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett

A settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit against the federal government involving hundreds of First Nations people left out of residential-school compensation, including those who attended schools at Lower Post and Sturgeon Lake.

The lawsuit was brought by Indigenous students known as “day scholars,” who attended the notorious residential schools but returned to their homes at night.

The settlement applies to those who attended any of more than 70 schools across Canada, including those who attended Lower Post in northeast B.C. between Sept. 1, 1951 and Aug. 31, 1968, and St. Francis Xavier on Sturgeon Lake in Alberta, from Jan. 1, 1920, to Aug. 31, 1959.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says the settlement will see survivors receive compensation of $10,000 each. 

To address additional harms suffered by the students at the school, Ottawa will also invest $50 million into a Day Scholars Revitalization Fund aimed at rebuilding language, culture, and community among the First Nations whose children were forced by Canadian authorities to attend the schools.

"They were not given a safe place to learn and grow. Instead, they were stripped of their culture, language and traditional knowledge," said Bennett. 

"While today's announcement has come too late for many survivors, the settlement will ensure that their estates and their descendants will be able to access compensation on their behalf."

The settlement remains subject to approval by the Federal Court and a hearing on the matter is scheduled to begin on September 7.

The lawsuit was certified in 2015. Day scholars were excluded from the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, which compensated students $10,000 for the first year in a residential school, followed by $3,000 a year thereafter.

Two survivors of the schools, Charlotte Gilbert and Diena Jules, say they are heartened to finally be recognized for the pain and horrors they endured at the schools after fighting for 14 years to receive compensation. 

Jules, who attended the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia, says she was treated as less than human, and says it was not acceptable they were not included as part of the 2006 agreement, which compensated students who did not go home at night. 

All day scholars who were alive as of May 30, 2005, are included in the settlement, law firm Waddell Phillips says in a statement. In cases where a day scholar has died since that date, their families or estates are able to apply on their behalf. 

The settlement does not affect the claims sought in a separate class action brought on behalf of Indigenous communities "as a result of the destruction of language and culture caused by residential schools," Waddell Phillips says. 

A trial on that matter is to continue in the latter half of next year.

The settlement also applies to those who attended Lejac near Fraser Lake and St. Joseph's in Williams Lake between Jan. 1, 1920 and Feb. 28, 1968.

The full list is posted at www.justicefordayscholars.com.

— with files from Canadian Press, Prince George Citizen