Moral bankruptcy leads to financial bankruptcy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Nov 2 09:44:02 MST 2000

NY Times, November 2, 2000

Indian Lawsuits on School Abuse May Bankrupt Canada Churches


REGINA, Saskatchewan - Lawsuits filed by thousands of former Indian
boarding school students in Canada, claiming sexual, physical and
"cultural" abuse, threaten to swamp the financial resources of four
mainstream Christian churches that ran the schools until 1970.

"I simply see us going broke," Duncan D. Wallace, the Anglican bishop of
Qu'Appelle, which encompasses Regina, said of his diocese. With
resignation, he added, "When you get down to it, all we need is a bottle of
wine, a book and a table, and we are in business."

Settlements could snowball into billions of dollars, devastating the
financial resources of Canada's four old-line Christian churches: Anglican,
Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and United Church. By the end of next year,
the Canadian government forecasts, 16,000 Indians will have entered some
form of claim; that number is equal to 17 percent of the living alumni of
the boarding schools.

Already there are four class-action suits against the churches and the
government, which had the churches run schools in distant communities under

Indian plaintiffs have won all five boarding school abuse trials held in
the last two years - two in Saskatchewan and three in British Columbia. In
the Saskatchewan cases, both involving sex abuse, and both filed against
the government, one plaintiff won $54,000 and the other $114,000. In the
British Columbia cases, lawyers for the government and the churches
negotiated secrecy over damage awards.

Auditors for the Anglican Church of Canada predict that legal fees alone
will push the church into bankruptcy next year.

"There is a lot of denial, people thinking this is a bad dream," Bishop
Wallace said of the responses of priests and parishioners to the claims. "I
told a priest recently, `When your rectory gets sold out from underneath
you and you are living in the street, maybe you will understand this is for
real.' "

Parishioners have proposed selling the oldest church in Alberta to raise $2
million for legal costs and settlements faced by the United Church of
Canada. In Manitoba, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Roman
Catholic order, want to hand over to the federal government virtually all
their property in the province in return for Ottawa's assuming liability
for about 2,000 claims against the order. The Oblates fear that legal bills
will eat up their assets before any money can flow to legitimate claimants.

In British Columbia, some members of the now bankrupt Anglican diocese of
Cariboo, embittered with the government, propose complying with a
government order to inventory church art for auction by sending their
Sunday school drawings to Ottawa.

Behind the suits is the real pain of many Canadian Indians who were rounded
up and forced into the schools.

In the late 19th century, Canada's government turned to established
churches to carry out federal obligations to educate the new nation's
Indians. With few civil servants willing to work in remote areas, churches
agreed to run a network of aboriginal boarding schools, which numbered
about 100 at its peak.

In a forced assimilation popular in North America a century ago, children
as young as 5 were taken from their families to faraway boarding schools
where their hair was cropped short, they were often dressed in uniforms and
they were forbidden to speak their native languages or learn their
traditional arts, religion and dances.

"How do you get 6-year-olds who only speak Sioux, who only speak Lakota,
who only speak Cree to speak English?" asked Anthony Merchant, head of a
group here that represents about 4,000 claimants. "You use Gestapo-type
tactics to punish this 6-year-old. Punishment becomes increasingly
barbaric, sadistic."

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Louis Proyect
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