As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks about a new relationship with Canada’s indigenous peoples, many find themselves on the outside looking in.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission process and residential school settlement did not include Métis, people who attended day schools rather than residential schools and people who attended residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The government is fighting two of those groups in court as class action lawsuits seek the same kind of compensation offered to other school survivors.
Josie Penny watched Tuesday’s TRC event in tears.
But there was no reconciliation for her, or recognition for her years in a residential school in Labrador.
“It’s the way it’s always been,” she said.
“We’re very seldom ever included in Labrador. It just seems like nobody cares. It hurts. If everybody else can get the attention that they so rightly deserve, as we also deserve and are not getting, it hurts.”
Penny testified in a St. John’s court as part of the ongoing class action lawsuit there.
It wasn’t easy. She wishes there was another way to resolve things that didn’t involve the witness stand.
“When you go on the witness stand and you’re fighting against the Government of Canada, it’s very scary,” she said.
Clément Chartier is also among those left out: The president of the Métis National Council spent 10 years in a residential school but his experience hasn’t been recognized.
“This morning we again reminded the Prime Minister that the Metis residential schools have not been dealt with yet,” he said at a press conference Wednesday.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chair Justice Murray Sinclair acknowledged Tuesday that the process isn’t comprehensive.
“There are many thousands of indigenous people whose treatment over the years mirrors that of those in residential schools but who have not yet been fully acknowledged,” he said.
Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde vowed Tuesday to keep pressure on the government to recognize these people.
“They were forgotten. they were left out. So we’re seeking justice for all that have been hurt by this travesty and we will keep supporting it. And I will say sometimes you need a legal strategy to put enough pressure on so there’s a political strategy going forward.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government is looking into an “appropriate response” to the Newfoundland and Labrador survivor and other court cases.
“We know that it does no one any good for issues like this to have to be settled in court. We need to be able to settle them in robust and substantive conversations.”
Indigenous and Northern Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett acknowledged Tuesday that the government has more on its plate than the 94 TRC recommendations, and suggested they may move to end the ongoing class actions.
“Our government’s view of reconciliation is bigger than the court-directed mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” she said.
“We do believe that getting things out of the courts is going to be the way forward and a way that’s less painful for so many survivors in some of these complex situations that didn’t end up being in the original class action.”
The government has yet to offer timelines or concrete plans for settlements. In the meantime, government lawyers are fighting these residential school survivors in court.
Penny says she’s hopeful that the cases will be resolved. “The new government sounds promising. Whether or not they’re going to follow through it’s really hard for us to say. It’s hard for us to trust anybody at this point.”