Hodge: Recognition for residential school survivors

To this day, the cruel, barbaric and racist disregard for others continues to have its impact.

I call her ‘Tez’ for a reason.

Mostly because of the feisty, spunky side of her nature.

The nickname, however, was inspired by the Tasmanian devil emblazoned floor mats in her funky little white car (not to mention the Tasmanian mascot figurine on her dash).

I figured rather than phonetically shortening Teresa to ‘Tes’ or Tasmanian to ‘Taz,’ I would blend the two and honour the wild side with ‘Tez.’

In retrospect it was a classic case of foreshadowing. Little did either of us know she was about to step into a whole other world than she had ever planned on. Thank goodness she did.

Soon after Tez and I first met eight years ago, I introduced her to a fellow I was working with named Fran Huck.

Aside from being a former superstar junior and Canadian Olympic hockey team player, Huck also played a number of years in the WHA and NHL before turning to law.

One of Huck’s legal passions was working with First Nations folk on legal cases so it was natural for him to become deeply immersed in working on Indian Residential law suits.

When I first began working with Huck, my job was to contact clients and garner information or memories of the horrendous crimes perpetrated against them in order to win them compensation from the federal government and churches.

For those of you not aware of the scenario, back in the mid-20th century the federal government created a mandate to “de-savage” native Indians across Canada.

To do so, they decided to round up children from reserves across the country and send them to live in residential schools in various provinces.

They commissioned the job of running the residential schools to the Catholic, Anglican and United churches.

The rest is a disgusting, shocking, almost uncomprehendable historic black mark few Canadians known about, or at least talk about.

Like it or not, we performed a cultural genocide over those years perpetrated on innocent children—and dealt out at the hands of nuns and priests.

To this day, the cruel, barbaric and racist disregard for others continues to have its impact.

Indian children were taken from their homes for nine or 10 months and sent to the dimly lit, poorly maintained schools full time.

They were not allowed to speak their own language, practice any of their religious or cultural beliefs, and have any contact with their own brothers or sisters at the school.

Regular beatings, sexual assaults and/or other forms of abuse and disrespect were routine—as part of the process of breaking down the children to destroy the ‘wild spirit.’

It worked.

When it was not the nuns or priests doling out the cruelty, it was older students abusing younger with the encouragement or at least blind eye of the adults in charge.

The legacy of that callous conduct is apparent today in many facets.

Thankfully, a number of years ago the federal government finally conceded on the public demands that some form or justice, financial restitution and apology be made by both the government and its subcontracted church partners for the atrocities committed.

The Truth and Reconciliation memorandum spelled out the guidelines.

Even as a veteran journalist I could not handle the heartbreak and anger of Huck’s clients.

When Tez took over my job, I wondered how long she would last.

For the past seven years plus, Tez has helped Huck assist hundreds of First Nations clients (mainly from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba) find some small form of restitution and compensation for the nightmares.

I have watched her come home decimated from her days work, yet day after day she returned to the task.

Now it seems most of the residential cases are over and their job nearly complete.

While the pain has never gone away for the victims, and no amount of money can compensate for the damage, I am so proud of the work Huck and Tez have quietly done for others.

Last week, some great news arrived in the announcement that hundreds of First Nations’ people left out of residential school compensation will now be allowed to collectively sue the federal government for their treatment while attending regular day school.

The federal court in Vancouver has certified a class-action lawsuit proposed by the so-called “day scholars,” who returned to their homes at night.

The decision comes a day after a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission branded the residential school survivors’ collective ordeal “cultural genocide.”

The legal action was launched by two British Columbia aboriginal bands, from which at least 300 survivors have so far been identified.

Chief Shane Gottfriedson, of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc (Kamloops) band, says the decision is another step towards justice and reconciliation.

The two First Nations’ bands say they’re beginning preparations to notify class members and expect the outcome of any trial to be months or years away.

I am not sure if either Tez or Fran have the energy or inclination to climb back into that nasty saddle and ride again.

However, knowing that hundreds if not thousands more victims of a long hidden horrible secret may find a little justice brings even more light into this dark part of Canada’s past.

For all you have done for so many without a voice for so long, and for what may be ahead of you, thank you Fran and Tez.

 

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