A group of Crees in Waswanipi is hoping to spearhead the first class-action lawsuit in Quebec on Native residential schools.
And they have the support of the Grand Council of the Crees, which is offering to coordinate any Cree residential-school suit.
That would make it the first residential-school court action in Canada sponsored by a First Nations government.
“We have agreed to back anyone who may come forward,” said Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council.
“The problem is we never had anyone to come forward. The only thing we were lacking was a client.”
The community of Waswanipi is meeting on March 19 to discuss residential schools and the idea of a lawsuit.
John is one of several residential-school survivors in Waswanipi who think it’s time to go to court.
He was living in the bush as a young boy when his parents were forced to send him away.
“It never leaves me. I never talked to my wife about it. It wasn’t easy, those years. I still live it today like it was yesterday,” said John, 36, who is a full-time trapper and now has four kids. He doesn’t want his full name used at this stage.
Like many kids from Waswanipi, Mistissini and Ouje-Bougoumou, John was sent to live in a residence for Native kids in La Tuque. He attended a French-language public school in the town.
John and his six brothers and sisters would spend nine months of the year at the residence, coming home only for Christmas.
It was John’s first encounter with white people. It was also his first experience of physical punishment, which his parents never used on their children.
“We used to get hit with a ruler or a belt. Sometimes I couldn’t sit because it hurt. Sometimes they would put you against a desk and you bow down and they hit you,” said John.
One instructor used to throw his boot at the children, he said.
“I’ll tell you one thing – I always think about this, what happened at the school.
I always think about it, but I keep it inside. I’ll tell you another thing – it helps when I go in the bush.”
Later in life, John tried to forget by abusing alcohol: “It was the only way I could stop thinking about it.”
He got that problem under control, but is still haunted by his childhood separation from his parents. John was so homesick he didn’t want to learn and still can’t write.
John also passed on a few words from his dad Isaac. “I wasn’t too happy when they took my kids away,” Isaac said. “I left my kids’ things the way they were (in our camp). That was the hard part – seeing those reminders of the kids.
“We didn’t know what was going on with them when they were gone. We were worried. I used to cry, not only when they left, but after. It was the worst day of my life, the first day they left.”
Paul Gull, chief of Waswanipi, said his community still feels the scars from the residential schools. “There are a lot of social impacts related
to that.” he said.