Canada offers C$40 billion to compensate Indigenous children
Canada’s Indigenous Services Minister announced on Monday that the government is provisioning C$40 billion (the equivalent of US$31.2 billion) to provide compensation and to commit the funds necessary to implement long-term reform so that future generations of First Nations children will never face the systemic tragedies of their ancestors.
Officials confirmed the government will start paying out once a protracted lawsuit is settled.
The lawsuit concerns the damage inflicted by Canada’s residential school system that separated Indigenous children from their families and sent them to boarding schools where they were malnourished, beaten and sexually abused. The schools operated mainly between the 1890s right up until the mid 20th century and were run by the government and by Churches.
Canadians, and the world, were shocked in May at the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former Residential School in British Colombia. The bodies belonged to Indigenous children, some believed to be as young as three years old.
Other graves have since been revealed as authorities pledged to conduct investigations and bring full light to the issue, releasing the names of the children who died and promoting healing and closure.
The Pope’s appeal
Following the discovery of the mass grave at the former Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia, Pope Francis expressed his shock and issued an appeal to political and religious authorities of Canada “to continue to work together with determination to shed light on this sad event and to commit themselves humbly to a path of reconciliation and healing.”
The Pope, who was speaking during the Angelus on 6 June 2021, also issued a call to “turn away from the colonial model and from ideological colonisations, and to walk side by side in dialogue, mutual respect and recognition of the rights and cultural values of all the daughters and sons of Canada.”
The nation’s Catholic bishops have also expressed deep sorrow and said they are committed to an ongoing accompaniment of Indigenous families and communities.
In a concrete sign of solidarity and joint action, a delegation of Canadian Church representatives and Indigenous Elders was due to be received in the Vatican by Pope Francis in December. That meeting however has been postponed because of the Covid-19 crisis and tentatively rescheduled for Spring 2022.
The ongoing lawsuit for compensation
The C$40 billion compensation decision agreed on Monday affects some 55,000 children.
The government’s legal strategy came under intense scrutiny after the discovery of the unmarked graves. The current lawsuit comes in the wake of a 2016 ruling by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that the federal government allocated fewer funds for child and family services of Indigenous people than for others, pushing more Indigenous children into foster care. In October, the government appealed the tribunal’s 2019 follow-up order that Ottawa pay each affected child C$40,000. But it said on Monday it would pause the appeal while engaging in talks with the initial complainants.