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Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask. school survivors fight for compensation

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Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask. school survivors fight for compensation
The Île-à-la-Crosse Survivors Committee announced that it is seeking compensation from the governments of Saskatchewan and Canada – Jan 25, 2023

A class-action lawsuit has been filed by survivors of the Île-à-la-Crosse school against the governments of Saskatchewan and Canada.

The Île-à-la-Crosse Survivors Committee says those governments have breached “their statutory/ constitutional, fiduciary, and common law duties to all of the Île-à-la-Crosse school survivors and their close family members.”

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The Île-à-la-Crosse school ran in Canada from the 1820s to the mid-1970s before it burned down.

The committee said students from that school were excluded from the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement because the school wasn’t considered an Indian residential school.

It added that they were left out of all other settlements as well.

The committee said students at Île-à-la-Crosse were forbidden from practising their traditional cultural practices.

It added that Île-à-la-Crosse is a Métis community that was primarily Cree-Michif-speaking, with many kids from neighbouring Dene communities being sent to the school.

Six survivors and intergenerational survivors of the school are seeking compensation from the governments for harms and abuses they say were experienced at the school.

They added that the lawsuit was filed last month after many years of failed attempts to negotiate fair compensation.

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“I hope, that by bringing forward this lawsuit, that the Survivors of Île-à-la-Crosse will finally receive the justice that we deserve and that our truth is heard,” said plaintiff and survivor Louis Gardiner.

“We lost our language, our culture, and our identity at the school. We deserve justice and recognition moving forward.”

Gardiner said he was five years old when he attended the school, noting that many survivors never got to tell their stories.

He said they were split up by gender, and that boys couldn’t speak with their sisters.

Gardiner said they weren’t allowed to use their names, but were assigned a number that they had to respond to.

“And if you didn’t, they called it the strap, was the weapon. The strap — I’m sure a lot of you have seen it — it did a lot of damage. And if you tried to pull back, it’s an extra two (smacks).”

He said he was one of the few survivors who ran away from the school, noting that search parties were sent out looking for them.

Gardiner said everyone is tired, and the survivors are tired, adding that this file has been with them since 2005.

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“We are ready to negotiate and invite the Government of Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan to work with Survivors and their families,” said Île-à-la-Crosse Mayor Duane Favel.

“Survivors and their families deserve recognition, justice and compensation. Survivors are dying and we are losing time. The time to act is now.”

Favel said Métis people were part of the residential school system and dealt with the same kind of abuses.

“All that we want is to be respected, to be appreciated as Métis people, and to get the recognition that we deserve.”

Favel said he commends First Nations and Inuit groups for getting settlements and bringing closure to some of their people, adding that’s where they are trying to get to.

“The Métis were a part of that systematic process, we still don’t have closure,” Favel added.

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Michelle LeClair, vice-president of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, said you can see the effects of these schools in northern Saskatchewan today.

“We have a number of intergenerational kids that have been affected, and you look to our communities in northwest Saskatchewan and you see the harm. You see the suicides, you see the abuse of drugs and alcohol, you see the beautiful communities, but the loss of language the loss of culture, the grieving for the land. That was a result of this residential school.”

LeClair said these things have not been acknowledged.

She said many of the survivors have died hoping for acknowledgment and compensation.

She added they hear a lot of agreement from the provincial and federal levels, but said nothing gets done until these issues are taken to court.

“The communities need reparation.”

Global News has reached out to the governments of Saskatchewan and Canada for a response.

The government of Saskatchewan refused to comment, noting that the matter is before the court.

Nicolas Moquin, as spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada said in a statement that addressing claims related to abuse committed against Indigenous children is “a crucial step towards renewing our relationships with Indigenous Peoples.”

“There are two separate proposed class actions related to this issue. In addition to the recently filed claim, Canada and the Province of Saskatchewan had received a previous claim from different counsel representing these plaintiffs.”

“In 2019, the Ile-a-la-Crosse Survivors’ Committee, the Métis Nation–Saskatchewan and Canada signed a MOU to share information and explore potential options that could inform resolution of this litigation. The parties also committed to taking steps to encourage the Province of Saskatchewan to participate in this process.”

“We are hopeful that counsel for the two competing claims will be able to resolve which law firm will represent the plaintiffs expeditiously.”

Moquin said due to the involvement of the Government of Saskatchewan in running the school, it will be a crucial part of any resolution.

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