Joe Jacobs and his siblings Leona and Bruce have all filed claims regarding their time at Indian Day School in Kahnawake’s old Kateri School. (Lindsay Richardson The Eastern Door)
During the era of residential schools, it was once calculated that Indigenous children raised in their communities spent, cumulatively, 78,000,000 nights away from home: that’s a total of 213,000 years of childhood lost while subjected to cultural, physical, and sexual transgressions at institutions far from home.
But what about those who who were allowed to come home after school?
When the Harper government introduced the idea of compensation for residential school survivors in 2006, he omitted attendees of Indian Day School from the settlement agreement.
Over 100 Bands sued the federal government, and have continued to do so since 2012.
Last week, it was announced by Crown Indigenous minister Carolyn Bennett that these previously overlooked day scholars would finally be entitled to reparations from the federal government.
Indian Day Schools – hundreds of federally-run institutions maintained by the church – were the subject of a class-action lawsuit first launched in 2015. An agreement-in-principle was reached in December, and day school survivors have been invited to submit their applications detailing the “harm” caused by this school system.
Joe Jacobs, now 73, also attended Kateri School with his two siblings around this same time. He found out about the reclamations process on TV, and quickly Googled the forms before passing them along to his brother and sister to fill out and fax right away.
“I didn’t hesitate – I sent it out right away,” he said.
Although Jacobs believes they were lucky – his grandparents refused to allow the children to be taken to residential school, like their parents were – there are memories that still sting.
He recalls one incident, where he urinated in his pants after a nun refused to take him to the washroom on time. The same nun paraded him around the class, pointing out the stain to peers, and ultimately labelling him a “dummy.”
“They made you pray often – I guess that was their way of trying to break the language,” Jacobs said.
“We couldn’t wait until we were 16 to get the hell out of there,” he added.
Jacobs’ sister, Leona, was once caught chewing gum. As punishment, she was forced to stretch the bubblegum over her nose, and like her brother, be paraded around like a dunce in front of classmates.
Despite the lasting impact, Jacobs is sure that some students had it worse than he and his siblings did.
“I don’t think any children should have to go through that again,” Jacobs said.
“They used to say ‘you’re God’s children,’” he added. “But truly, if we were God’s children – would all those things have happened to those kids in residential school or in Indian day school? No.”
Unlike the settlement agreement reached for the Sixties Scoop, there is a sliding scale when it comes to compensation for day school survivors.
Payment will reflect the “most severe harms” suffered while attending day school – anywhere from a $10,000 minimum payment, to $50,000 or $200,000 for those who endured “repeated sexual abuse and or physical assault leading to long-term injury.”
But as part of the reparations, the federal government also announced a $200 million “Legacy Fund” for restorative initiatives and commemoration – every First Nation in Canada is eligible to apply for this funding.
The Ottawa-based law firm overseeing the claims process – Gowling WLG – says it used the re-victimization and cross-examination of survivors during the residential schools hearings to streamline the claims process, presume honesty, and minimize harm.
Survivors who attended one of Kahnawake’s eight day schools, however, don’t necessarily agree.
For Kawennotas Sedalia Fazio, the dredging up of old memories is still too painful to discuss – just reading the forms, she said, brings her back to her time at the old Kateri School between 1962 and 1969 – when it closed permanently.
“I have been the elder for both the MMIW and Venne inquiries and have been emotional support for many residential school survivors during their interviews, so I am just dreading going through it myself because I know the process,” Fazio said in a Facebook message.