FW: Indian suits over schools could crush churches

Craven, Jim jcraven at SPAMclark.edu
Tue Jun 19 16:44:03 MDT 2001




> Subject: [certainhome] Indian suits over schools could
> crush churches
>
> From the PI:
>
> http://seattlep-i.nwsource.com/national/can15.shtml
>
>
> Indian suits over schools could bankrupt Canadian
> churches
>
> Friday, September 15, 2000
>
> THE BOSTON GLOBE
>
> MONTREAL -- Although not a single case has yet made it to
> court, a wave of
> litigation is threatening to bankrupt Canada's four
> largest Christian
> denominations under the weight of thousands of lawsuits
> brought by Indians
> demanding redress for "cultural abuse" in church-run
> boarding schools.
>
> The lawsuits argue that the government-supported schools'
> attempts to
> assimilate natives into the social mainstream, requiring
> them to learn
> English and adopt the ways of white Canada, constituted a
> sort of cultural
> violence.
>
> Its effects, they claim, were even more devastating than
> the acknowledged
> sexual assaults and beatings that occurred in at least
> some of the 125
> Indian Residential Schools from the mid-19th century
> until the 1970s. The
> schools were run by the Roman Catholic, United, Anglican
> and Presbyterian
> churches until the system was finally abandoned in favor
> of community
> schools on every Canadian reservation.
>
> At the worst institutions, the federal government and
> churches acknowledge,
> Indian youngsters were victims of sexual attack and other
> sadism by staff.
> And both the churches and Ottawa's Department of Indian
> Affairs are
> committed to making amends for clear cases of physical
> abuse, with hefty
> financial settlements already paid in quiet out-of-court
> deals.
>
> But in the stunning new wave of litigation, Indians --
> and their white
> lawyers, working on contingency fees -- are demanding
> hundreds of millions
> of dollars for loss of cultural identity, a claim so far
> untested in any
> court.
>
> "In Canada, we didn't slaughter Indians like in the
> United States," said
> Tony Merchant, a Saskatchewan lawyer whose firm
> represents some 4,000
> Indians claiming their lives were ruined by the boarding
> schools.
>
> Canada's Indians today are riding perhaps the most
> aggressive aboriginal
> rights movement in the world. From Nova Scotia to British
> Columbia, natives
> are pursuing colossal land claims, rights to harvest
> commercial quantities
> of resources from lobster to redwood logs, and cash
> payoffs for injustices
> dating back decades and even centuries.
>
> The latest round of school suits allege that the poverty,
> alcoholism, crime,
> domestic violence and other ills that are wracking
> aboriginal communities
> are at least partly the result of attempts to force
> natives to learn
> English, acquire job skills and adopt Christianity at the
> schools.
>
> In the past few years, more than 6,400 lawsuits by Indian
> plaintiffs, plus
> four massive class-action suits, have been brought
> against the churches and
> government agencies responsible for the boarding school
> system. New ones are
> being filed at the rate of 40 a month, threatening to
> swamp the legal
> system.
>
> The churches are hemorrhaging millions of dollars simply
> to pay lawyers to
> meet the legal onslaught. The Anglican Church -- Canada's
> third-largest
> Christian denomination -- is on the edge of bankruptcy
> and may go under as
> early as next year unless the government engineers a
> last-minute bailout.
>
> Church leaders agree uniformly that redress should be
> paid to Indians who
> suffered physical abuse. But the idea that the very act
> of teaching English
> or imparting Western values (such as hard work,
> punctuality and personal
> cleanliness) constituted "cultural genocide" -- as
> Indians and their lawyers
> allege -- is too much for some clergy to swallow.
>
> "There's a whole pile of upper-middle-class guilt here
> that's running the
> show, and not much common sense," the Right Rev. John
> Clarke, Anglican
> bishop of Athabasca, in northern Alberta, told the church
> newspaper Anglican
> Journal.
>
> But Clarke's is a distinctly minority view as Canadian
> church leaders trip
> over one another in a stampede to issue mea culpas. Last
> week, for example,
> native drums pounded in a somber if bizarre ceremony as
> clergy of several
> leading Christian denominations in Newfoundland and
> Labrador offered formal
> apologies for the coming of their forebears to the New
> World and subsequent
> failure to treat natives with respect and kindness.
>
> Indians seemed mostly annoyed by the apology.
>
> "What is it, specifically, they are apologizing for?"
> asked Peter Penashue,
> a Labrador Innu. "I have a problem when people say,
> 'Oops, sorry for the
> past five centuries.'"
>





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