- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

REGINA, Saskatchewan — Richard Redman closed his eyes and clenched his fists in a struggle to hold back a rage dating back to a childhood of physical and sexual abuse at a Catholic boarding school for Indian children.
Although 40 years had passed, his eyes flashed the desperation of the terrified 8-year-old who had forgotten to wear his rubber boots outdoors and knew what was coming.
"She had a strap, about 3 inches wide and about 2 feet long," he said. "That nun beat the living [expletive] out of me. I was in the infirmary for a week. It wasn't even wet outside. She was just mean. I spent my weekends looking out a window crying, wishing I could go home."
Asked if he had been sexually assaulted during his eight years in St. Paul's Residential School in Lebret, Saskatchewan, a brick institution along side Mission Lake in the scenic Qu'Appelle valley, Mr. Redman, now 48, said his brother was sodomized by an Indian supervisor and his sisters molested by a lesbian nun.
"Was something inappropriate done to me? Yes," he said.
Oh, Canada. As a young nation in the 1880s striving to educate its native population, Canada's government contracted with churches to save heathen souls by setting up a network of boarding schools throughout the country.
As the system grew, children from entire Indian villages were rounded up, separated from their parents and sent away to learn the white man's ways.
By the time the last of the schools, known as "residential schools," closed in 1996, sordid tales of physical and sexual abuse by teachers, administrators and clergy were beginning to surface in a litany of lawsuits.
Judgments that followed drove dioceses throughout the nation to the brink of bankruptcy, and today the Canadian government faces potential payouts of billions of dollars to Indian victims — a liability that ultimately will be passed on to taxpayers.
Mr. Redman is one of some 10,000 Canadian Indians bringing civil lawsuits against the government for horrors suffered in 100 residential schools that the government contracted out to Catholic and Protestant church groups.

A flood of lawsuits
Four years ago, 84 lawsuits had been filed over abuses in the residential schools. Ottawa expects the number of lawsuits to balloon to 15,000 by the end of this year, and with 92,000 survivors of the residential school system still alive, the number could go much higher.
In addition to charges of physical and sexual abuse, the Indians' lawsuits accuse the government of "cultural genocide." Both the government and participating churches sought to strip Indian children of their language, culture and family ties in a system of forced assimilation, the lawsuits charge.
Mr. Redman, like many other school survivors, blames years of childhood abuse at the hands of nuns, priests, teachers, administrators and Indian supervisors for years of drug and alcohol addiction.
Once, in a drunken rage, he returned to the school determined to kill the nun who had beaten him dozens of times over the years, but she already was dead.
Unlike many fellow alumni, he eventually was able to give up alcohol and drugs. Sober for the past 20 years and about to finish his master's degree, he now works as a paralegal helping Indians in courts in Saskatchewan's capital of Regina.
He regularly participates in traditional Indian ceremonies and credits his native faith for his continuing sobriety.
But the violence and cruelty he suffered in Canada's residential school system is never far from the surface. "I have to fight the demons, demons they created, every day," he said.
When asked about lawsuits that he and the others have brought against the government and Canada's churches, he said: "We all have to pay for our sins.
"The church knows what it did was wrong. I don't give a [expletive] if I bankrupt it. They should have thought about that before they did this to us."
The Indians blame the residential school system for many of the problems they suffer today.

A legacy of pain
Aboriginal communities across Canada are plagued with alcoholism, drug abuse, sexual abuse, family violence, prostitution, AIDS and virtually every other social pathology that can be named — a direct result of the government's policy, according to many lawsuits that cite abuse in schools as a primary cause.
"I see the results of the residential schools every day," said Edmund Gordon, a Cree Indian and former student at the Anglican Church's Gordon School, about two hours north of Regina.
Every day he conducts AIDS, drugs and prostitution outreach for people who live on the streets of Regina. Most, he said, are Indians who survived the residential school system, or their children.
"I see the people crying and hurting over what happened to them in the residential schools. The schools did this to us," he said.
The schools were meant to save so-called savages from themselves. Canadians thought they were doing something good for the downtrodden.
"As with many tragedies, this journey too, began with the single step of good intentions," Canadian historian John Milloy writes in his book, "A National Crime."
The book, much of it based on findings of a 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal People that began to uncover the abuse, reads like a war crimes indictment of the Canadian government and the nation's churches.
About half of the nation's 100 schools were run by Roman Catholic orders. A quarter were run by Anglicans, or the Episcopal Church as it is known in the United States. The remainder were operated by Presbyterians, Canada's United Church, which is Methodist, other Protestant denominations and independent churches.
Ninety percent of the claims now pending against the federal government — some of which name churches as third parties — claim some level of sexual or physical abuse.
Until recently, most Canadians were unaware of this history, but today all sides say sexual and physical abuse of Indian children in the schools was rampant.

Terrifying childhoods
"The children were from a marginalized population. The schools were isolated geographically. Indeed, they did attract pedophiles," said Shawn Tupper in Ottawa, the government's point man on the problem and the lawsuits.
Yet the government insists that the schools were not all bad, and that some Indians had good experiences and received an education.
"I have some good memories," said Louise Poitris, a Sto-lo Indian who attended St. Paul's in Lebret from 1948 until 1955.
"[The abuse] never happened to me. I'm sorry I lost my native tongue, but I'm still a Catholic. I guess I was one of the lucky ones," she said, setting up for bingo in the gymnasium of the now-closed school.
Even so, she said she once saw a nun force a classmate to eat porridge in which the girl had vomited.
"I don't think that the government's policy was initially malicious, but by today's standard it was wrong-minded," said Mr. Tupper. "The church saw the schools as a way to spread the word of God. And people did feel the aboriginals would be better off if they were more like Europeans."
While the residential schools story was common knowledge in aboriginal communities, it wasn't until the late 1980s that the first word of the hidden history began to seep out.
One study in the Northwest Territories found that eight out of 10 girls younger than 8 had been molested and 50 percent of the boys the same age had endured some kind of sexual abuse.
The churches all had apologized by 1992. The government, after saying it would never apologize for fear of incurring liability, relented with a full mea culpa of its own in 1998.
The stated policy from the very beginning was to turn savage and uncivilized natives into good Canadians. The Indians would gain entry into heaven; they would be educated and become consumers.

Good intentions drive policy
The welfare rolls and the taxpayer burden would be diminished. To accomplish this, the church and state determined that the Indian children needed to be separated from their families, their culture and their language.
Put in the vernacular of the late 1800s, official policy was: "Kill the Indian and save the man."
The schools, modeled in part on industrial schools set up for Indians in the United States, were hastily and poorly built, underfunded and understaffed.
In an age without antibiotics, thousands of children died of tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. In many schools, the death rate ran as high as 50 percent.
According to the 1996 Royal Commission report, children had their heads shaved and were assigned a number upon arrival. Little educating took place, and many of the survivors to this day cannot read or write.
The commission found: Children were forced to perform menial labor, such as cleaning floors with toothbrushes. They were beaten if caught speaking their native tongues, fed watered-down gruel barely fit for consumption, beaten with what seemed like sadistic pleasure, sexually and physically assaulted and abused with impunity — all under the watchful eye of the Canadian government.
In 1998, in response to commission's report, the government issued an official apology to Canada's Indians.
The apology was offered by the minister of Indian affairs, not the prime minister.
It was presented at Canada's Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, instead of Parliament.
Indians dismissed it as too little, too late, and the flood of lawsuits followed.
The second part of the government's response to the Royal Commission, under the heading of "Gathering Strength," was $350 million that was granted to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation for a variety of social services, including alcohol, drug and sexual abuse counseling, HIV prevention, traditional healing ceremonies and elder support.

Healing old wounds
"We are trying to invest in healing. Money isn't the way to solve this. Everyone deserves compensation but, we have to look at a broader approach in terms of coming to healing and reconciliation," said Mr. Tupper.
With the facts well established, all that is left now is the financial and legal resolution, which some fear could bankrupt many churches into extinction.
"The government recognizes that the church is part of our social fabric, and they have the ability to deliver some programming with respect to healing," said Mr. Tupper. "It is not the government's desire to see the churches wiped out, but some parts of the church may change significantly. Other parts may disappear."
Faced with the prospect of court-ordered payouts of billions of dollars, the government is eager to reach a negotiated settlement.
"Hypothetically, the sum obviously could be very large," said Herb Gray, Canada's deputy prime minister responsible for negotiating the governments' and the churches' "share of liability" before settling with the Indians.
"Our objective is to see if we can settle cases in a comprehensive way, with a result that all this will end in a way that is quicker and less costly for all concerned," he said.
He said the government's goal is a resolution that is "fair to the church, fair to Canadians, and above all fair to the victims," adding that the courts do not recognize loss of language and culture as a cause of action.
At least 18 criminal convictions have been filed against abusive priests and administrators, but most of the accused are either dead or too old to prosecute.
The government has settled about 350 of the claims out of court, paying out about $25 million. In some cases, money has been put into a community-healing fund. Five more lawsuits have gone to trial, with awards of $80,000, $169,000 and most recently $376,000, which is being appealed.

Taxpayers to foot bill
Tony Merchant, a Regina lawyer who represents 4,800 of the 10,000 Indian claimants, said he expects the awards to rise.
"The government thought they could settle inexpensively by delaying, but they are getting themselves into a worse situation. Many of my clients have claims between $500,000 and $800,000," he said.
The Caribou diocese responsible for the Anglican schools in Kamloops, British Columbia, is "wrapping up business" as it settles claims and carries out a court order to liquidate all assets.
Regina's Qu'Appelle Anglican diocese, which is home to the Gordon School, could be next.
The Gordon School was one of the worst. It was run by William Starr, who was convicted of sexually abusing Indian children and sent to prison.
"I am the 10th bishop of Regina. I do not cherish the thought of being the last," said Bishop Duncan Wallace.
He said his diocese is named in more than 400 lawsuits. "We are dipping into our last fund now. There is a good possibility that we will be bankrupt within two years or so. After 10 cases, we'll be out of business."
The Roman Catholic Church, because of its legal structure, has managed to make itself immune to most of the lawsuits.
So far, the courts have found only specific Catholic orders liable for damages wrought by its nuns, priests and administrators.
"The Catholic Church is organized in little cells, to go on for eternity, so you cannot get at the center, or its treasure," said Mr. Merchant, the Regina-based lawyer who describes himself as a practicing Catholic.
Mr. Redman called the Catholic Church a multinational corporation whose headquarters in Ottawa have "limited liability."
"When all is going well, the resources flow to the center, but when a subsidiary has trouble, they cut it off and it is left on its own," he said bitterly.

Church denies responsibility
Jerry Kelly, who coordinates the Catholic Task Group on Indian Residential Schools in Ottawa, said Canada's Catholic Church and Catholics in general are not morally or financially responsible for the sins committed in residential schools.
"The government was the primary and the church organizations were the agents of government policy. The litigation is directed at the individual corporations, or diocese, and the government of Canada," he said. "Catholics recognize there is a historical record to be dealt with and Catholics have the same moral responsibility as all Canadians, not one as Catholics and another as Canadians."
He said, echoing the government position, that it is too early to put a price tag on the amount of any settlement because not all of the claims have been validated.
He said several Catholic dioceses in Alberta, Yukon and the Northwest Territories were on the verge of bankruptcy.
Phil Anaquod, who went to St. Paul's Catholic school in Lebret in 1963, said the older students were responsible for helping younger children wake up and get to class.
He recalled the abuse that followed whenever his charge wet the bed:
"The nun would rub his face in the wet sheets," he said during a short tour of the gymnasium, the only part of St. Paul's still standing.
For added humiliation, he said, the child was forced to walk through the crowded dining hall, where he was made fun of, carrying the sheets to the laundry.
Jerry Shepherd, a Cree Indian who went to the Anglican Church's Gordon Residential School, about two hours north of Regina, said he was molested and beaten regularly.
"They tried to knock the Indian out of us Nobody would help us," he said. "You couldn't tell the teachers, because they were the ones doing it. You couldn't tell the cops, because they didn't believe you. You couldn't tell your parents. They told you to stay in school."
Sober for seven years now, Mr. Shepherd worships at the Indian Christian Metis Fellowship. He participates in powwows and paints for therapy. He sees no contradiction between his faith and seeking retribution from the church in court.

Rebuilding a shattered life
Mr. Gordon said at 11 years old he was a top-flight junior hockey prospect.
He asked his parents to send him to Gordon School in 1973. The school had a team that played around the province, and he was convinced that it offered him his best chance to get to the National Hockey League.
Once there, an Indian counselor plied him with alcohol and drugs before trying to fondle him.
"I didn't tell my dad. I thought it was my fault. I was 11 or 12 years old. I'd asked to go there, and I had started drinking the whiskey and smoking pot," he said.
Upon leaving school, addicted to drugs and alcohol, Mr. Gordon fell into the street life of selling and using drugs for 17 years.
One night when he almost shot a man in turf war over drug-dealing territory, he heard a call from God that changed his life, he said.
He has founded and now runs the Aman House counseling center for drug- and alcohol-addicted Indians, and a street service for Indian prostitutes, some as young as 8 years old.
Mr. Gordon says he forgives the people at the school but makes no apologies for pressing his lawsuit.
"They introduced me to the drugs and alcohol that nearly killed me. I could have been an NHL hockey player or an RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police], but I was robbed," he said. "I'll use the money for my family and for the work of God."
If all the lawsuits proceed without an out-of-court resolution, the Canadian government's Mr. Gray said, it could take as long as 20 years before the conundrum is resolved.

Lawyers accused of stalling
But while Ottawa searches for a formula to prevent "punishing" the Canadian taxpayer and to determine whether the church and the government are 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent or 60 percent responsible respectively, the Anglican Church and the attorneys representing the Indians accuse the government of stalling.
"I believe Herb Gray is a good man and will do what he can," said Bishop Wallace. "But there is no question the lawyers are making a career out of this, doing everything possible to obstruct and prevent settling the cases."
Mr. Merchant, the lawyer, agreed.
"The people who went to residential schools are getting older, and many have endured a very difficult life. They are dying," said Mr. Merchant, who is suing the government but not the churches on behalf of his clients.
"I don't think the [government] ministers know this is going on or want this to go on, but their lawyers are just doing what lawyers do, filing every piece of paper they can, to stall. Meanwhile, my clients are dying. Fifty-four of my clients have died since we started working in this area."
Bishop Wallace acknowledged the church's responsibility for its conduct and failures but said it had to be seen within the context of Canadian citizens fulfilling official government policy.
It was government policy that created the schools; therefore, the Canadian government and the taxpayers of Canada as a whole — including the church — are responsible for the financial resolution, he said.
"Our assets are almost gone. The Canadian taxpayer will have to pick up the tab. I think that is only fair," he said.

Public opinion divided
An Angus Reid poll last year found that 60 percent of Canadians believe that the churches have a "moral responsibility" for the problem, but that same percentage also do not want to see the church financially crucified into bankruptcy; they expect the government to bail out the churches after they have done all they can to meet their financial obligations.
The poll also found that 20 percent of Canadians do not care if the churches disappear.
"Why should we compensate the Indians? For what, trying to educate them and assimilate them?" a Regina businessman said on condition of anonymity. "Maybe the odd bit of abuse did occur, but it was no different from when I went to school. If they raise our taxes to pay for this, I'll go south [to the United States]."
Others took a more conciliatory line.
Martin Bidman of Montreal called the entire history "a national disgrace."
Mike Laferriert from the town of Rivere-du-Loup, in Ottawa to celebrate Canada Day, stopped during his tour of Parliament.
"I feel ashamed of my country. The [Indians] have a right to compensation," he said.
In the First People's Hall of Canada's Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, Michelle Poupore of Montreal also supported the Indian lawsuits.
"It is time they get what they deserve," she said, shifting her baby from one hip to the other. "If the money helps them heal, it will be well invested."

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