Native children who were raped, beaten and sometimes tortured in residential schools should receive compensation, says Ovide Mercredi.
The recently re-elected National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations said Canada and the churches which ran the schools should assume responsibility for what happened in the schools and the social problems they created in First Nations communities.
“The impact of this policy of assimilation was the negation of our people,” said Chief Mercredi, who also demanded a public inquiry and an apology. He did not specify an amount of compensation that the AFN would find acceptable.
Chief Mercredi made the call for compensation after the publication of a 200-page report called Breaking the Silence, which investigated conditions in the residential schools. The study found that native children were often beaten and sexually abused. Children were also given cruel and degrading punishments, including prolonged isolation sometimes without food and water. One girl recounted being sat in a chair and electrocuted until she bled.
Hundreds of thousands of native children, including hundreds from James Bay Cree, were forcibly sent to the schools, which started operating in the 1800s and continued until the early 1970s. The school year usually lasted 10 months, and children were not allowed to speak their own languages. They often lost their mother tongues and were no longer exposed to the traditional ways of life of their ancestors.
The Catholic Church, which ran half of the residential schools across the country, has already refused to compensate all native people who were in the schools.
Monseigneur James Weisgerber, of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Churches, told Canadian Press that his
church has already apologized.
He said the church is ready to compensate only those who could prove they were abused.
“But we don’t have any intention of paying compensation for the unique reason of having been in a residential school,” he added.