Res-school Genocide = $ for lawyers

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Tue Jun 19 18:30:47 MDT 2001

[ from Jim Craven ]

The Globe & Mail, March 2, 1999 by Alanna Mitchell

[S.I.S.I.S. note: The following mainstream news article may contain
biased or distorted information and may be missing pertinent facts
and/or context.  It is provided for reference only.]

Calgary -- More than 1,000 native Canadians who were forced to attend
residential schools as children have launched multimillion-dollar
lawsuits against the federal government and churches over the past
several days, spurred on by fears that a new Alberta law will cut off
their chances to make claims.

The new Limitations Act came into effect yesterday. It gives a person
10 years to file a civil claim once it is realized that damage has
been done.  Other provinces allow a limit of 30 years for civil
cases. Some lawyers believe Alberta's new law leaves a two-year window
for people to file lawsuits about residential schools, but most who
handle such claims have flooded the courts with them over the past
several days to make sure they won't be disqualified later.

The firm Ruston Marshall Barristers in Lethbridge, for example, filed
civil suits on behalf of 362 members of the Blood tribe last
Friday. They claim a minimum of $500,000 apiece as compensation for
mental distress, loss of education and earning opportunities, and loss
of culture. "These are serious claims born of a system designed to
marginalize the first nations people of Canada," said Vaughn Marshall,
a Lethbridge lawyer who has spent more than a year putting the
lawsuits together.

In the past few days, the number of civil suits against the government
and against churches that ran residential schools has risen from about
2,200 to at least 3,500, the Assembly of First Nations said.

Only a tiny fraction of the allegations have been the subject of
criminal charges. Most are being dealt with solely through the civil
system. Some of the new suits catalogue a litany of sexual and
physical abuse and claim the schools robbed the children of their
rights to education. They accuse the government of stealing the
children's cultural heritage and forcing them to live in squalor.

The plaintiffs range in age from their late 20s to their 90s. At the
schools' peak, in 1946, there were 76 in Canada. Most were closed in
the 1970s. The government estimates that about 200,000 pupils went
through the residential school system.

The Merchant Law Group, which handles a huge volume of
residential-school civil suits, has filed 700 claims in recent
weeks. Its lawyers, unlike those of several other firms, believe any
suit not filed by yesterday will lose out under the new act. Tom
Stepper said his firm believes the act may be unconstitutional because
it limits the rights of aboriginal Canadians to file civil claims.

The suits have raised concern among native leaders who fear that, in
the rush to sign up complainants, some lawyers may not be dealing
adequately with the emotional trauma that often accompanies such
claims. In some cases, the lawyers were simply telling their clients
to fill out questionnaires detailing the abuse and then sending them
home, a spokeswoman for the Assembly of First Nations said. Others
rented halls and advertised their intent to sue the government on
behalf of residential-school survivors.

The situation became so knotty that Phil Fontaine, the Assembly's
national chief, sent letters to law societies across the country
objecting to the heavy-handed nature of some of the marketing. He
himself attended a residential school. He noted that some survivors of
the residential-school system who had filed suits had subsequently
committed suicide, and he pleaded for lawyers to be sensitive.


>From a letter Phil Fontaine sent to law societies across Canada in
October, 1998

"First Nations members have drawn attention to three elements which
concern me. The first is the aggressive solicitation of clients in
some jurisdictions.

"We have heard complaints from survivors that lawyers have rented
halls and advertised their services to sue the government or the
churches on a contingency basis. Some lawyers have approached band
members who attended the residential schools.

"We have been informed that this tests the boundaries of taste and
ethics, even though it may not be illegal. We suggest that while it
may be within the letter of the law, this behaviour may be exploiting
a situation that requires the utmost sensitivity.

"The choice of some counsel to hold town hall meetings or to send out
questionnaires which may require potential plaintiffs to write about
painful experiences may place some people at risk.

"There have been residential school plaintiffs who have committed
suicide and there are complainants who were questioned by police in
regard to criminal investigations into residential schools who have
committed suicide.

"The care required to ensure that our people are not re-victimized by
processes without counselling support cannot be stressed enough."


"Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian that has not
been absorbed into the body politic of Canada and there is no more Indian
Question. That is the whole purpose of our legislation."
 --  Duncan Campbell Scott, Indian Affairs, 1920

More information on Residential Schools atrocities:

Letters to the Globe and Mail - mailto:letters at

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To: LISN <lisn2000 at
From: Long Standing Bear Chief <blkfoot4 at
Subject: Blackfoot Confederacy Meeting
In-Reply-To: <36DF7EC8.B2DB844 at
X-Stationery: 413 3
X-Eudora-Signature: <Standard>

The Blackfoot Confederacy will meet on Friday March 12, 1999 starting
at 1:00 p.m. and again on Saturday March 13, 1999 starting at 9:00
a.m. The meeting will be held in the conference room of the Boys and
Girls Club in Browning, Montana to decide the issues it will be
pursuing for the coming year and the new millenium.

Also, actions that will be taken to get recognition in the United

Some of the issues of concern are:

1. Canadian and American authorities stopping the free flow of gifts
for Sun Dance Ceremonies

2. Rights of native people to pass unmolested through the "borders" of
Canada and the US when the Blackfoot Confederacy never gave its
consent to allow the whites to set up boarders separating their

3. Setting up of tribunals to gather evidence of child abuse in the
residential schools of Canada and the boarding schools of the US.

4. Submission of articles to the Pikanii Sun, a news and culture
jounrnal for the Blackfoot Confederacy.

5. Public relations inititatives with Siksika, Akainaiwa, and Pikanii
members, the other allies and the general public.

6. Education effort to inform members regarding the fraudulent nature
of Treaty 7 in Canada

8. Legal action regarding the illegal imposition of Glacier and
Pondera Counties on the Blackfoot Nation in 1919 when Blackfoot were
not citizens of the US.

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