Money-managing workshops in the works for residential school deal

Former students of Indian residential schools had until Monday to decide whether to opt out of a historic class-action settlement, and now the federal government is preparing to help recipients handle their money.

Former students of Indian residential schools had until Monday to decide whether to opt out of a historic class-action settlement, and now the federal governmentis preparing to helprecipientshandle their money.

The $1.9-billion compensation package from Ottawa could be implemented as early as Sept. 19, assuming no more than 5,000 of the estimated 80,000 former students opt out and no further appeals are filed.

Students taking the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreementwill not be able to sue the government, churches or any other defendant down the road.

"We've had relatively few opt-outs at this point," said Gina Wilson, assistant deputy minister of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada, the federal department tasked with implementing the settlement.

"I figure probably in about another week or so, the courts will come back to us and let us know how exactly many opt-outs we have received. But I understand that the numbers are relatively low."

The agreement, approved by the federal government and the courts last year,stemmed from the sexual, physical and psychological abuses of students at the 130 Canadian schools run jointly by the government and religious organizations until the mid-1970s.

Wilson said applications for compensation will be made available Sept. 19, and cheques could start going out as early as October. It's expected that each eligible person would receive an average of $28,000.

Wilson said she expects some positive economic spinoffs from the compensation, such as recipients buying new vehicles, fixing up their homes or paying bills, but she said people must also be aware of possible pitfalls.

"We know in our communities we have addiction problems. We have trauma that can be not well supported," she said.

"We have frauds and scams, and we also have encountered elder abuse, and so we're very cautious of that."

Working group launched

The federal goverment has established a community impacts working group to help people manage theircompensation funds.

Made up of federal departments, aboriginal organizations, churches, police and front-line workers, the group has already scheduled workshops on investments in about 150 communities across the country.

That kind of investment assistance is crucial, said Marius Tungilik, a former residential school student from Repulse Bay in Nunavut.

"Some people will spend it foolishly without a doubt," said Tungilik, who attended aresidential school in Chesterfield Inlet from 1963 to 1969.

"There will be some people who just feel it's not their money to begin with, and there may be the temptation to spend it all at once or as quickly as possible. And life can become one huge party for a while, and before you know it, it will be all gone without anything to show for it."

Tungilik said former students who want to feel "a sense of ownership" of their compensation should leave the money in the bank for a few days or weeks before spending it.

"You will get the feeling that it is yours to spend," he said. "Have a plan as to how you will use that money. Without a plan it's very easy to just spend it."