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Federal Court Approves Residential Day School Settlement


A Federal Court judge has approved a $2.8 billion settlement agreement between the Canadian government and plaintiffs representing 325 First Nations whose members attended residential day schools.

Judge Ann Marie McDonald said in her ruling on Thursday that the settlement is intended to help take action to reverse language, culture and heritage losses through an Indigenous-led nonprofit.

“This settlement is historic both in terms of the amount of the settlement and its unique structure,” McDonald said.

“As Canada has pointed out, the $2.8 billion settlement is not intended to assess the losses suffered by band class members, as that is an impossible task.”

She called the agreement “historic” and “transformational,” adding that the settlement does not absolve the federal government of future lawsuits related to children who died or went missing at residential schools.

“I am satisfied that the settlement is fair, reasonable and in the best interest of the members of the band group. The settlement agreement is therefore approved,” McDonald said.

The federal government originally reached a settlement with the plaintiffs in January, but the Federal Court also had to approve the deal.

The lawsuit was originally brought by two B.C. First Nations, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and the shishalh, over a decade ago for members who were ineligible for the 2006 settlement entered into between Canada and the full-time students of the schools.

Former Tk’emlups te Secwepemc leader Shane Gottfriedson spoke at the February settlement approval hearing in Vancouver.

Gottfriedson, one of the first plaintiffs in the case, told McDonald that reaching a settlement with the federal government “means everything” to him and that it is “about time for Canada to step down” and let First Nations themselves decide how to recover from the schools residency program.

The settlement is now entering an appeal period, after which the money would be transferred to a non-profit fund run by a council of Indigenous leaders.

Affected Indigenous communities will each be able to decide what to do with their settlement funds, based on the principles of the “four pillars” outlined in the agreement: Indigenous language revival and protection; the revival and protection of Aboriginal culture; heritage protection and enhancement; and the well-being of Indigenous communities and their members.

The McDonald’s ruling also said the funds and their proceeds cannot be used to finance individuals or commercial enterprises, be used as collateral to secure loans, or as collateral.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 9, 2023.

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