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Canada settles $2 billion lawsuit over ‘cultural genocide’ at residential schools

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OTTAWA — Canada said Saturday it had agreed to pay C$2.8 billion, or about $2 billion, to settle the latest in a series of lawsuits seeking reparations for harm done to people. natives through a system of compulsory boarding schools that a national commission called “cultural genocide”.

The new settlement, which still needs court approval, resolves a class action lawsuit filed in 2012 by 325 First Nations who sought compensation for the erosion of their cultures and languages.

Thousands of Indigenous students educated in approximately 130 residential schools from the 19th century to the 1990s were prohibited, sometimes through coercive violence, from speaking their ancestral languages ​​and practicing their traditions.

Indigenous children were sometimes forcibly removed from their families and sent to schools, which were largely run by churches.

In 2021, Canadians were shocked by evidence of unmarked graves containing the remains of 215 former students on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Evidence of the graves was discovered using ground penetrating radar. Later research in other ancient schools found similar possible burial sites. Thousands of students are believed to have died in schools due to disease, malnutrition, neglect, accidents, fires and violence.

If the new agreement is approved, it will be the fifth major court settlement related to the schools since a 2006 agreement provided compensation for former students and established a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission examined the education system, heard testimony from former students and released a long list of recommendations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to fully implement. With the latest agreement, the government will have provided a total of approximately C$10 billion in compensation.

“The residential school settlement left a lot of unfinished business,” Marc Miller, the Minister of Indigenous Relations, said in an interview referring to the 2006 agreement. namely that there was a collective type of damage to language, culture and heritage and this devastation caused by successive government policies.”

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, which discovered the remains at the Kamloops Indian Residential School site in 2006, was among the parties to the ongoing lawsuit.

“Canada has spent more than 100 years trying to destroy our languages ​​and cultures through residential schools,” Kúkpi7, or Chief, Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc said in a statement. “It’s going to take incredible efforts on the part of our nations to restore our languages ​​and culture – this settlement gives nations the resources and tools to get off to a good start.”

Under the agreement, the government will place the settlement in a trust fund that Indigenous communities can use for educational, cultural and language programs. It will also be used to develop projects to support former students and help them “reconnect with their heritage”, the government said in a statement.

The full agreement will be published later. The Federal Court of Canada is due to hold a hearing in late February, where it is expected to approve the settlement.

While the government settled part of the lawsuit in 2021, most of the case was due to go to trial. Mr. Miller, the Minister of Indigenous Relations, said the government decided last fall, however, that it was better to negotiate a settlement than to go to court and have the arguments take place in a “ contradictory environment.

“Get around the table, figure out how we move forward and how we put the financial resources in place,” he said of the federal cabinet thinking behind the decision. “Not that they can completely replace the harm that has been done, far from it.”

nytimes Gt

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