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Former Kivalliq Hall students win long fight for compensation

'I was stunned,' says Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak, who helped initiate legal action to make former students of Kivalliq Hall eligible for compensation under the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

Court gives former students right to compensation for time at Rankin Inlet residential school

A five-year legal battle has ended with former students of a residential school in Rankin Inlet becoming eligible to receive compensation for their time at the school.

A five-year legal battle has ended with former students of a residential school in Rankin Inlet becoming eligible to receive compensation for their time at the school.

"I was stunned," said Simeon Mikkungwak of the decision, released Wednesday. "After a few hours I got excited. At the same time I was really thinking about all my friends I went to high school with at Kivalliq Hall."

A Kivalliq Hall resident student from 1985 to 1989, and now Baker Lake MLA, Mikkungwak helped initiate the legal action.

The decision adds Kivalliq Hall to the list of residential schools in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. As a result, all former students who lived at the residence while attending high school in Rankin Inlet are entitled to the common experience payment and can apply for further compensation for any abuse they suffered at the residential school.

Under the common experience payment, former students receive $10,000 for the first year of school they attended and $3,000 for each additional year.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. launched the lawsuit in 2012, after the federal government denied Mikkungwak's application to include Kivalliq Hall in the list of schools in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The agreement was negotiated between Indigenous groups and the federal government to compensate people who attended residential schools for harm they suffered at the schools.

Kivalliq Hall is the first school in the three Northern territories to be added to the list of schools eligible under the agreement. 

Judge says Ottawa responsible despite devolution

In hundreds of pages of documents filed in the case, the federal government argued that it was not responsible for the operation of Kivalliq Hall because it had by then transferred responsibility for education to the Northwest Territories government.

The transfer happened in 1970. (At the time the Northwest Territories included the areas now known as both the N.W.T. and Nunavut.) Kivalliq Hall, a 40-bed residence, operated from 1985 to 1995. Students from other communities in the region stayed there while going to school at the Kivalliq Region Education Centre.

Canada argued that once authority for education had been transferred, the territorial Department of Education was responsible for all aspects of education in the N.W.T.

N.T.I. argued that, despite devolution, Ottawa was still effectively in control of education. It pointed out the federal government retained the right to decide what new schools and residences were built and provided the money to build them.

Baker Lake MLA Simeon Mikkungwak, who completed his high school education in Rankin Inlet while living at Kivalliq Hall, led the charge to have Kivalliq Hall included in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

In her decision, Justice B. Tulloch of the Nunavut Court of Justice said she found Mikkungwak's evidence, and that of NTI lawyer Sandra Omik, more reliable than that of an expert witness the federal government used.

Justice Tulloch concluded that the commissioner, who was appointed by the federal government, still had control over education at the time Kivalliq Hall was built. She also found that the N.W.T. relied on Ottawa to fund both the construction and operation of Kivalliq Hall.

"...Kivalliq Hall could not have been constructed without the approval of the Commissioner, who was an appointee of Canada," said Tulloch in her written decision.

Both sides are now discussing what the new deadlines will be for former students applying for compensation.

with files from Michael Salomonie

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