Gaps in records could cause problems under residential schools deal
August 29, 2007
Former students of Indian residential schools hoping to get a compensation cheque may not receive as much money as they expect because records proving they attended the schools may not exist.
Ray Mason, co-chair of Spirit Wind, a support group for former students in Peguis, Man., says he attended residential school for 12 years, but the federal government has records for only two.
As other students file claims, Mason worries they too will find their records incomplete.
While he plans to fight for compensation for his full 12 years of attendance, he is concerned that elderly residential school survivors will simply take whatever is offered.
"Say if somebody went to school for seven years and the government can only find three or four years of you there, they would get tired of waiting and a lot of the elders will say, 'Well, just give me my money that's owing to me and let's get it over with,'" he told CBC News.
"So that's why I get a little nervous."
The difference between two years at a residential school and a dozen translates into tens of thousands of dollars under the agreement, which applies to about 80,000 native people.
The "common experience payment" section of the agreement sees aboriginal people who lived in residential schools receiving $10,000 for their first year of attendance in the schools and $3,000 for every subsequent year.
Ottawa trying to fill in blanks
CBC News has obtained documents, some going back to the 1940s, showing governments ordered files destroyed because of a paper shortage, and years later because of a lack of storage space.
"At the time, many of the Indian residential school attendance records were seen as invoices, so the significance of the documents historically was not recognized until more recently," says David Russell, director of national research and analysis for Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada.
Russell says his department is working hard to fill in the gaps in records.
"We're looking at provincial and territorial archives, as well as existing ministries of education, churches, community archives, certain band offices that took over administration of the buildings in the 1970s," he said.
"We're looking at every available source."
Former residential school students can begin filing their applications for compensation under the program on Sept. 20.