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Residential schools settlement review a chance to help not 'repeat mistakes of the past'

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is scheduled to be in Sioux Lookout, Ont., on Monday to speak with residential school survivors as part of an ongoing review of the settlement agreement.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation visiting 7 communities across Canada, including Sioux Lookout

The Pelican Lake Indian Residential School operated near Sioux Lookout, Ont., from 1926 to 1978. (Anglican Church of Canada)

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is scheduled to be in Sioux Lookout, Ont., on Monday to speak with residential school survivors as part of an ongoing review of the settlement agreement; a process, one survivor says, that can help inform other outstanding issues and help the country learn from its past.

The meeting, along with six other in-person stops across Canada as well as efforts to gather feedback in other ways, is to get input from those who were forced to attend residential schools on how well the settlement agreement has worked and where improvements can be made.

"I think this is really important ... so that we learn from these voices that are out there," said Garnet Angeconeb, a residential school survivor who lives in Sioux Lookout. "Often we say that we don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past, well, in order to do that, we should be looking at these things and evaluating some of these things so that we do truly learn from our exercises."

Feedback collected as part of the settlement agreement review could also be applicable to things like ongoing claims related to the 60s Scoop as well as the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Angeconeb said.

Aspects of the settlement agreement and the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission itself are soon "coming to a close," said Ry Moran, the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, making now a good time to hear from survivors on what they think has and hasn't worked.

In 2007, the federal government, churches and former students reached a $2 billion settlement over abuses inflicted at residential schools; aside from payments to survivors, it also resulted in funds for healing programs and the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Ry Moran is the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. (Warren Kay/CBC)

"This outreach that we're doing is intended to say 'OK, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement did certain things, the parties were tasked with doing certain things, did it really achieve what it set out to do and how successful was it in that?'" Moran said.

The centre was asked by the parties to the settlement agreement to collect this information, he added; a collection of testimony from survivors as part of the overall review is expected to be completed in March 2019.

"It's very sensitive work," Moran continued. "We have health supports in place for people that are attending these events and we're just trying as much as possible to accurately reflect what survivors want to say about what it is that they went through."

'Deeper review' needed

One issue Angeconeb said he intends to bring up at the Sioux Lookout meeting is the need for a "deeper review" of the settlement agreement itself.

"I think the process ... by talking to survivors is really good," he said. "Now, because this is a very legalistic agreement, I do believe that there needs to be a step further and that the signatories — the churches, the government and the survivors — they need to look at this agreement and review it from a legal perspective."

That would include examining whether churches have "honoured their commitment to the agreement," he said, along with concerns raised by some survivors over how lawyers dealt with their claims.

"That's something that needs to be reviewed by a body other than the survivors and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation," Angeconeb said.

"There is ongoing unfinished business as a result of the agreement; those areas need to be identified, whatever they may be," he continued, adding that another area he'd like to see examined is the issue of ongoing healing supports for survivors, their families and communities.
Garnet Angeconeb is a residential school survivor. He says he will be at the meeting in Sioux Lookout on Monday. (Submitted by Garnet Angeconeb)

"Many have done good work in this regard but it cannot just stop here."

Still, Angeoneb said the review process that is underway is valuable and he's "very thankful" for the national centre's efforts.

"The positive is that the healing has begun and we must celebrate that," he said. "Through that dialogue comes healing and through healing comes understanding."

"We still have a lot of work to do in the area of healing but, hey, I remain hopeful."

With files from Sidney Cohen