VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Despite the recent signing of the largest
and most comprehensive compensation package in Canadian history,
residential school survivor Clarence Dennis believes this financial aid is
a mere pittance and would not fairly represent his suffering.
"That compensation shows we are abused, used, humiliated, degraded and
insulted," said Dennis, 63. "To be cured for all of the abuses we've taken
and for the funds we need would be $200,000 per person."
Under the new legislation, school survivors are entitled to a "10 plus 3"
plan where every person would get $10,000 Canadian for their first year
enrolled and $3,000 for every year thereafter. Dennis, who was in a
residential school between the ages of 7 and 14, would be entitled to
However, he lists a host of physical and emotional scars he received while
in attendance at a government- and church-operated school, wounds that he
still harbors a half-century later. Expelled from the Port Alberni
institution after telling authorities he was sexually abused, he was sent
to juvenile detention and deemed "incorrigible." This became the first of
many trips to jail and prison during his next 25 years; and while he has
not been incarcerated since the 1980s, Dennis points to his stolen
childhood as the root cause for his anger.
Having attended three treatment centers, each for six-week stints, to
address his psychological problems, Dennis calculates that for full and
proper treatment for school survivors, their spouses and children, medical
and professional costs would easily push $200,000 per person. He added that
this figure would include neither the physical pain and suffering nor the
losses of culture and identity, intangible factors for which a price would
be hard to determine.
"They're not obeying their own standard sets of deterrence foundations of
our judicial system," he said, pointing out that $30,000 -- $40,000 per
survivor for this general abuse does not provide enough of a financial
penalty to prevent this from happening again. (Individual court awards for
sexual abuse cases are not included.)
Another Vancouver elder who endured the residential system is Oliver Munro,
71. Even though his family only lived six miles away from his Lytton
school, visits home were infrequent during his decade of schooling.
When describing his experiences, Munro's eyes continue to display fear of
authority. Articulate and university-educated, with a bachelor's degree in
cultural anthropology, Munro flinched and referred to the school's
headmasters by their surnames as if still in their presence.
He blames that environment for retarding his social skills, including the
ability to be intimate.
"When I got married, it was for convenience. Every time I got sick and
tired of the kids, I went into the logging camps [to work]," Munro said.
Although Munro was eventually able to tell his mother that he loved her
before she died, because he never received support and nurturing as a child
he found it difficult to pass those feelings along to his children. That
problem stemmed from within the crowded dormitories where there was no
sense of right or wrong in the absence of parental guidance.
"Getting hit every day was nothing, because I thought it was natural."
Eligible for $40,000, Munro respects how Native negotiators and the federal
government have tried to compromise for an acceptable agreement to correct
these injustices. But, he succinctly noted, money is not the cure-all for
"Whatever money we get, it will never, ever pay for what happened. Never."