Abused by another student: N.W.T. residential school survivor hopes his testimony will get 2nd hearing

Joachim Bonnetrouge says he was a victim of student-on-student abuse at Sacred Heart Mission School in Fort Providence.

Former Fort Providence chief’s claim was originally rejected by Independent Assessment Process

Joachim Bonnetrouge stands in front of a monument in Fort Providence, N.W.T., that names about 300 children who died at the community's Sacred Heart Mission school. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC News )

When Joachim Bonnetrouge testified about the abuse he endured at residential school as a child, part of his claim was rejected.

Lawyers working for the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement concurred Bonnetrouge should be compensated for abuse he faced at the hands of school staff, but his testimony about what occurred at the hands of a fellow student was ignored.

This is something the federal government wants to change. CBC News has learned the Canadian government is seeking residential school survivors whose testimony about student-on-student abuse was originally deemed ineligible for compensation. Crown-Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett is expected to announce a separate stream of funding outside the Independent Assessment Process for these claims.

The funding will go specifically to claims that were previously rejected or not fairly compensated. No new evidence will be admitted.

Bonnetrouge, 71, didn't share details of the abuse he faced at Sacred Heart Mission School in Fort Providence, saying returning to those memories is too hard for him — but he did say he's preparing himself to one day share his story.

"Forty years ago there's no darn way I would have said anything," he said.

"But I've done a lot of work and I've made strides in getting well."

Bonnetrouge estimates he is one of hundreds of people across the North who were sexually abused by another student in residential school, and many didn't get a chance to heal.

"You know one year, I was sitting here and I just started trying to recall the names … I named about 17 students I went to school with ... they were dead by 30, 40-years old," he said.

"Why I was spared … maybe to tell this story I guess. To be a good elder one day. I could have been easily been one of the statistics."

A monument at Fort Providence, N.W.T., names about 300 children who died at the community's Sacred Heart Mission school. (CBC)

He said student abusers may themselves have been abused: that their behaviour was learned.

"I believe, even students that were abusing the smaller ones ... those students themselves were abused, probably by a sister, a nun, a brother, a priest," Bonnetrouge said. 

Former senator's claim accepted

Nick Sibbeston, a former N.W.T. senator, has spoken about the abuse he faced at the hands of another student in residential school — and he was compensated for that abuse.

He was about seven-years old when he was sexually assaulted by a boy a few years older while out on a trapline.

Former N.W.T. Senator Nick Sibbeston says it felt good to go through the Truth and Reconciliation process, and he's happy more former students will receive compensation.

Sibbeston said giving his testimony and receiving compensation lifted a burden.

"I felt when I was finished that yeah, thank God that the government and the churches have made it possible to deal with our residential school issues," he said.

"A chance to unload and unburden [myself] about the event and the experience that I went through."

Sibbeston said he's happy to hear others will receive compensation for this type of abuse.

No word on cost

According to a government source, the federal government has identified about 240 former students who would now be eligible for compensation. The money will come from a pot already designated for the residential school file. The government isn't sure yet how much this new round of settlements will cost.

The Independent Assessment Process has been criticized in the past for setting a high bar of proof for former students claiming student-on-student abuse.