(Vancouver) A Federal Court judge has approved a $2.8 billion settlement agreement between the Canadian government and plaintiffs representing residential school survivors.
Judge Ann Marie McDonald said in her ruling on Thursday that the settlement aims to help take steps to reverse the tide of loss of heritage, languages and culture through a non-profit organization led by indigenous people.
She called the agreement “historic” and “transformational,” adding that the settlement does not absolve the Canadian government from future lawsuits related to children who died or went missing at residential schools.
The federal government originally reached a settlement with the plaintiffs in January, but the Federal Court had to approve the deal as well.
The lawsuit was originally filed more than a decade ago by former Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Shane Gottfriedson and former Shishalh Nation Chief Garry Feschuk.
These members were ineligible for the 2006 settlement between Canada and the schools’ full-time students.
Ottawa had signed an agreement with the plaintiffs, that is, 325 nations that took part in the class action by Mr. Gottfriedson’s band.
A period is now opening during which an appeal of the decision can be made, after which the money will be transferred to a not-for-profit fund managed by a council of indigenous leaders.
Gottfriedson told the Federal Court judge in Vancouver that reaching an agreement with the federal government “meant everything” to him.
He told the court in late February that it was “about time for Canada to step down” and let First Nations themselves decide how to mitigate the damage caused by residential schools.
The two leaders filed the class action to seek justice and reparations for day school students who were abused while attending residential schools.
The original lawsuit originally involved three categories of plaintiffs, but in 2021 all parties agreed to focus efforts to first reach an agreement with survivors and their descendants, to ensure they can receive compensation during their lifetime.
Affected Indigenous communities will each be able to decide what to do with their settlement funds, based on the “four pillars” principles outlined in the agreement: Indigenous language revival and protection; the revival and protection of indigenous culture; protection and enhancement of the heritage and well-being of indigenous communities and their members.
The judge’s ruling also says the funds cannot be used to fund individual projects or business ventures, or as collateral to secure loans.