Ottawa to release millions of residential school records

Last week's Ontario Superior Court decision ordering the federal government to track down and turn over millions of residential school records could have far-reaching impacts, especially in the Yukon.

Last week’s Ontario Superior Court decision ordering the federal government to track down and turn over millions of residential school records could have far-reaching impacts, especially in the Yukon.

The decision may allow many of the territory’s First Nations people to apply for residential school compensation funding and could overturn rejections of some previous applications, said Ruth Massie, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations.

“I think this court decision is extremely important, as we do have some citizens in the Yukon who were residential school attendees and they are not being recognized,” said Massie.

Having access to government records will make it easier for victims of the infamous school system to apply for compensation, especially in cases where they attended day schools.

The deadline to apply for compensation has already passed, but Massie said she hopes it will be extended to allow people who thought they were ineligible to reapply. Even if it isn’t, however, she said that anyone who submitted their application on time but had it denied could mount an appeal and be considered for compensation.

“I’m surprised it hasn’t already gone to court yet. I do know and have been in contact with several students that made applications. Their applications are there, they were just denied. They’ll be able to overturn those decisions now,” said Massie.

Massie said she was unsure exactly how many residential school survivors could be affected by the court decision, but that there were at least three schools in the Yukon with students who weren’t previously considered for compensation. That’s because they were day schools, even though they were still run under the jurisdiction of Indian Affairs.

“There’s no recognition of the schools because of the missing records. Once this information is released, it will expose that,” said Massie.

She said she suspects the government was reluctant to release the documents because they may contain controversial information about the kinds of abuses that took place.

“If they wrote down any disciplinary action, it would be in those records as well,” she said.

At last month’s hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in Whitehorse, many survivors testified to the abuses they suffered and spoke about the continued damage and pain of having their applications denied because they couldn’t prove where they went to school.

The Ontario Superior Court ruled on Jan. 30 that the federal government must comb through its archives and turn over to the TRC millions of records relating to the government-run system of forced assimilation that took First Nations children away from their homes. In some cases, physical and sexual abuse at the schools was rampant.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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