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Call to Action # 29: Justice (25-42)

Boarding home survivors awaiting compensation now press for federal apology

June 16, 2024
Reginal Percival was 13-years-old when he was forcibly removed from his Nisga'a Nation home in northern B.C. and placed with non-Indigenous families.
Reginald ‘Reg’ Percival was the lead plaintiff in the Indian Boarding Homes class action. (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

CBC News: Reginald Percival still vividly remembers the sound of his mother and other distraught parents screaming on that day in 1969 when he and hundreds of other First Nations children were rounded up by the RCMP.

Percival, who was 13 at the time, said he was called by his Indian status number and bundled onto a bus in northern B.C., not knowing where he was going.

“I opened the bus window and looked out and my mom was out there and it’s like a funeral,” Percival said. “There was so much crying — … loud crying.”

Percival was warned about this day. His dad, who died a week before Percival was taken from their Nisga’a Nation family home, shared a story with his son about residential schools. 

“He said, ‘You’re going to be taken soon,’ and he said, ‘We can’t stop it because if we stop it, the RCMP come and they take us out,'” Percival said. “You don’t want to see your parents go to jail either.”

But Percival wasn’t sent to residential school that day.

Instead, he spent the next several years with families he did not know, far away from his own, under a policy known as the federal Boarding Home Program.

A 1960s photo of a teen boy standing in front of furniture and a curtain.
Reginald Percival, aged 13, in 1968. (Submitted by Reginald Percival)

For more than four decades, the federal government paid mostly non-Indigenous families to house approximately 40,000 First Nations and Inuit children while they attended elementary and high schools between the 1950s and early 1990s. 

The families were supposed to care for the children. Many instead endured repeated physical, sexual, verbal and psychological abuse.

Now, the suffering of boarding home survivors is being recognized and compensated under a Federal Court-approved $1.9-billion settlement agreement with Ottawa

‘Some of us never made it home’

The deal is designed to make it easier for survivors to make claims than previous settlements for Indigenous people did. But it does not include a recommendation for an official apology — and Percival said the federal government should step up.

“The prime minister of Canada has an obligation, I think, to say … I’m sorry for what happened. Because some of us never made it home,” Percival said.

Boarding home survivors were left out of a 2008 official apology by then-prime minister Stephen Harper for residential schools, and subsequent apologies by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Boarding home survivors call for official apology

WATCH | Why one boarding home survivor wants the federal government to say ‘sorry’: 1 day ago, Duration 1:05

Boarding home survivor Reginald Percival is urging the federal government to apologize for creating the federal Indian Boarding Home Program. 

Click on the following link to view all the videos in the original article on CBC:

https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/federal-boarding-home-settlement-agreement-approved-1.7236056?cmp=newsletter_Evening%20Headlines%20from%20CBC%20News_1617_1604172

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree said the federal government will look at other ways it can support survivors. 

“Although we cannot repair the past, we can definitely set the record straight and support families and survivors,” Anandasangaree said. 

The settlement covers the period from the program’s launch on Sept. 1, 1951, to June 30, 1992, when responsibility for education was transferred from Ottawa to Indigenous governing bodies.

Survivors are eligible for sums of $10,000 to $200,000, depending on the severity of abuse.

The settlement also includes a new $50-million foundation dedicated to survivors and their descendants for healing, commemoration, language and culture.

Claims process different from other settlements

To ensure that all eligible survivors receive their share, compensation for boarding home survivors is not capped. That wasn’t the case with other agreements, such as the Sixties Scoop settlement. 

Survivors are also allowed to submit more than one claim — the first to get $10,000 for attending a boarding home, and a second for additional compensation based on the abuse suffered.

“It’s difficult to tell your story,” said class counsel Douglas Lennox of Klein Lawyers.

“We found with some other settlements, like day schools, people felt pressure to get a claim in quickly — financial pressure, emotional pressure — and they put in a lower level claim. And later on, many claimants seem to have regretted that decision.”

Lessons learned from previous abuse settlements

WATCH | Agreement struck with improvements in mind: 1 day ago, Duration 0:40

Lawyer Douglas Lennox explains why the federal Indian Boarding Home Program settlement agreement gives survivors more flexibility to submit claims and share their stories.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/federal-boarding-home-settlement-agreement-approved-1.7236056?cmp=newsletter_Evening%20Headlines%20from%20CBC%20News_1617_1604172

But like the day school settlement, and unlike the residential school claims process, the claims process for boarding home survivors is entirely paper-based and won’t involve hearings with lawyers. Percival said that was an important improvement.

“I know some of the people that went through that process. They couldn’t recover,” he said. 

Survivors can submit claims from Wednesday, Aug. 21 to Feb. 21, 2027. 

Any boarding home survivor who would like to opt out of the settlement agreement has until Monday, July 22. Survivors who do not opt out will not be able to pursue their own legal action against the federal government. 

Overcoming a legacy of troubling federal policy

The compensation is for harm suffered in boarding homes, not schools claimants attended. 

Many children in boarding homes were starved, used as free child labour and forbidden from speaking their Indigenous language or practicing their culture. Many had limited contact with their families, if any.

When they returned to their homes years later, survivors often reported no longer being able to meaningfully connect with their communities.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with Indigenous leaders on June 11, 2008 in Ottawa after apoloigizing for the residential school system.
Former Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Mary Simon, now Governor General, shakes hands with former prime minister Stephen Harper as former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine watches on June 11, 2008, the day Harper formally apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the residential school system. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

When Percival returned home, he said he sat on the sidelines, unable to participate in cultural activities. 

“It’s ingrained in our brains that we can’t do that,” he said. “We were told that to be good Indian, you have to forget about your culture.”

But at the age of 68, Percival is reconnecting with his roots. He just made his first drum and wrote a song called, “If you abuse this child.”

“I wanted to dedicate that song to all of the survivors,” Percival said. “Power to you people. Survivors, stay strong.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Olivia Stefanovich, Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on X at @CBCOlivia. Reach out confidentially: olivia.stefanovich@cbc.ca. 

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