Out In The Open

The complicated cost of apologizing for residential schools

Two residential school survivors reflect on Canada's reparations and what it's like when a price is put on sorry.
A group of female students and a nun pose in a classroom at Cross Lake Indian Residential School in Cross Lake, Man., in a February 1940 archive photo. The discovery of potentially hundreds of unmarked graves near former residential schools has prompted calls for the release of records. (Library and Archives Canada)

In 2007, the Canadian federal government earmarked billions of dollars to compensate former students of Indian residential schools

Putting a price on "sorry" and actually calculating the cost of amends is complicated.

So is being the recipient of those funds.

Garnet Angeconeb attended residential school for six years. He received $25,000 in reparations.

Garnet Angeconeb is a residential school survivor and long time social justice advocate who received the Order of Canada in 2013. (Submitted by Garnet Angeconeb)
Garnet says that in some ways it's an acknowledgement and a validation of what happened. But he was also hesitant to take the money too.

"It was kind of like a bittersweet moment for me. Yes, I have all this money but...This is not going to bring my childhood back. This is not going to help restore my dignity."

He decided to accept the compensation and share it with his children and grandchildren because of the intergenerational impact of the residential school system.

Doug George-Kanentiio was 11-years-old when he attended residential school. He received $13,500 in reparations. 

Doug says reparations show a degree of sincerity but the process itself turned some Indigenous people off.

As a former student, you could qualify for reparations in two ways.

The first was for anyone who went to residential schools. They were eligible to receive $10,000 for the first year they attended, and $3,000 for subsequent years.

The second way was the process Doug is referring to - the Independent Assessment Process - which is more controversial.

It's for claims of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse, where survivors appeared before a panel. Incidents were given points and the total amount of points determined the amount of money people received.
Doug George-Kanentiio is a residential school survivor and has received reparations from the Canadian government. (Provided by Doug George-Kanentiio)

"...You do feel as though you're once again a victim. We were faced with a dilemma. One was substantiating those claims so that we could get those points and another thing is having to come up with those highly personal, embarrassing, humiliating details as to what incident happened, when it happened and how often."

Doug also says that throughout the process of reparations and reconciliation the onus is put on survivors, not only to provide intimate details of abuse, but to extend forgiveness. 

"The part that was omitted throughout all of this is the opportunity to actually sit across from the abusers and ask for their apology. That's never been done...We've never had that opportunity."

This story originally aired on January 15, 2017