Open Letter to:
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
The Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services
The Honourable David Lametti, Minister of Canada and Attorney General of Canada
June 02, 2021
Sent via email
The finding of 215 children’s remains at the Kamloops residential school site is yet another tragic and dark story of this country. There has been much reaction and there also remain so many questions to be answered.
In the recent national discussion triggered by the Kamloops residential school situation, many have referenced the important work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But in recent days, I have heard little mention of the historic 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the legal Agreement that gave mandate to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. My guess is that most Canadians do not know the TRC is an appendage of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
As a Survivor of the Indian residential school system, I strongly believe that, although very important, we cannot focus discussion just on the TRC 94 Calls to Action alone. The redress of the Indian residential school legacy also includes the work of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, and the courage of Survivors who disclosed during a time when no one was listening.
We must look at the impacts of the entire Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement: its strengths and shortcomings. I personally know the Agreement that was supposed to bring about a sense of closure and healing has also re-traumatized many Survivors.
I believe that in many ways, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, particularly with its compensation components, interrupted and derailed the healing movement of our people: shutdown of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation by the Harper government. Compensation money mesmerized some Survivors and sadly, understandably so. The smell of money was also taken advantage of by numerous others including some lawyers, consultants and upper echelons of Indigenous leadership. With this said, well operated healing initiatives were relegated to the back of the room.
A fellow Survivor once said to me, “How can I talk about reconciliation when my sister went missing from the residential school?” [Of the number of Survivors who have fallen through the cracks of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, how many are engaged in dialogue of reconciliation? Likely not too many.]
We need not look too far in this country to witness that there remains unresolved grief within the Indigenous community to mention a few: the disproportionately high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; the disproportionately high number of Indigenous men and women in Canada’s prisons; ongoing issues of child welfare; the threat of deadly drug abuse, homelessness, the 60s Scoop; racism and poverty. The list goes on.
Unresolved historic trauma carries with it many heavy burdens and complexities. For many, the pain eats away at the very core of their daily existence. The pain must stop.
The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement Must Undergo a Thorough LEGAL Review
Has the Agreement fully accomplished what it was intended to do, especially for the Survivors? Have all parties honoured the Agreement? These are good questions that need to be answered from a LEGAL perspective and process.
The review must have meaningful input and participation of community Survivors and not just for government and churches. Questions swirl around the Independent Assessment Process Secretariat and Crawford. A thorough examination of the Common Experience Payment, including the Personal Education Credits must also be done. Emphasis is stressed for a need to involve Survivors from the community level: our voice must be heard.
The Agreement is a legal document that was drafted by lawyers for lawyers and it was not drafted in a way that Survivors could easily understand; one reason why so many Survivors fell through the cracks was the lack of understanding of the Agreement.
Other Areas of Concern
Concerns About Law Societies – “Unfinished” Business: The Agreement, particularly the Independent Assessment Process, is known to have further caused injury instead of reparation. For numerous Survivors, there are feelings of anguish due to unresolved conflicts with their legal advisors.
The law societies are not part of the Agreement, but some are implicated by it: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
In northwestern Ontario, some Survivors lodged complaints with the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) over accusations of mishandling of claims by their lawyer. For some Survivors, their complaints remain unresolved. In the Keshen matter, the Law Society of Ontario clearly bungled the case.
The Law of Society of Ontario has not been fully accountable for miserably failing Survivors in the Keshen matter. I strongly accuse the Law Society of Ontario of a major cover-up. There remain too many unanswered questions. I recommend that the review of the Agreement also include probing the Law Society of Ontario on the Keshen matter.
Further, the review process should reach out to all Law Societies and to examine disciplinary cases related to lawyers engaged under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
Racism and Lynn Beyak: I do not need to repeat what happened in the Senate regarding the actions and words of former senator, Lynn Beyak. But I must ask: why did the Senate and the Government of Canada allow the racist actions to go on for so long, and, how does the Senate and the Government of Canada plan to rectify the situation so it never happens again?
Healing and Support Services: Especially at this difficult time, what healing support services and programs will be available to address the ongoing effects of historic trauma? A crisis help line is not sufficient. We need community based healing initiatives.
Conclusion: While there have been many good things that resulted from the Agreement, only Survivors can measure that they feel more empowered because of it. There is still unfinished business... so much more to do in redress. Healing is still essential including addressing the intergenerational impacts... believe me.
Because of the magnitude and depth of this historic Agreement, surely you could support the call for a legal review... it’s only just for the government and others to respond accordingly.
I plead with you to listen to the Survivors’ voices at the community level. No more top down approach.... please!
Garnet Angeconeb C.M.
Indian Residential School Survivor