Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Chief raps slow payment for school survivors

Sherri Borden Colley


Some former residents who were abused at the Shubenacadie Residential School and day schools are still waiting for compensation, says Shubenacadie Band Chief Rufus Copage.

“There’s got to be some discussion on that too,” Copage said in an interview outside of the 35th annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations in Halifax Tuesday.

“I figure there’s still 30 to 40 people that are still waiting around for their money. The residential school took so much away from us.”

Over 130 church and government-run residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996.

In 2007, the federal government settled a class action with the Assembly of First Nations for pulling generations of native children away from their families and placing them in the schools.

The Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008. Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized that year to survivors, and each received financial compensation and an opportunity for counselling.

Next steps and support for survivors of Indian residential schools will be discussed at Wednesday’s sessions. About 1,100 delegates, including 300 chiefs, are registered for the assembly, which wraps up Thursday.

The Indian Brook First Nation, home to the Shubenacadie band, is the largest reserve on Mainland Nova Scotia, with a population of 2,500, of which about 1,400 are on-reserve band members.

“Fighting for our treaty rights is really important. Now people are looking at our rights across the country,” Copage said.

A Supreme Court of Canada decision last month granting aboriginal title for the first time to B.C.’s Tsilhqot’in First Nation, awarding it 1,700 square kilometres of territory, may help Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq as well, Copage said.

“Because we’re pre-Confederation treaties — the 1752 (Mi’kmaq) treaty,” he said.

Treaty implementation, claims and land rights are also on the agenda.

Ghislain Picard, regional chief for Quebec and Labrador, is pondering a run for national chief of the assembly.

“It’s still under consideration. I have not made a final decision yet,” Picard told reporters during a break Tuesday.

The assembly will decide on a process for selecting a new leader this week.

Shawn Atleo, the assembly’s former national chief, resigned in May following a five-year term. He resigned following criticism of his support of proposed changes to federal legislation related to aboriginal education.

An election for a new national chief will take place in December.

Picard said the new leader must be both a diplomatic and aggressive leader.

“If you look at both the Supreme Court decision out of British Columbia three weeks ago and its significance, and what it means to all First Nations across the country, obviously it didn’t come about easy,” Picard said. “There’s been a strong stand taken by (the Tsilhqot’in First Nation) and Chief (Roger) William. But, as well, we have to find a way to engage.”

“Now is crucial time for the leaderless assembly,” Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny said in an interview.

“The vote is for the best interest of our people, our children, the future, the treaties. We just have to find a way to work well together and I believe in our people.”

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