Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pushback: Residential School Common Experience Payments

On February 1, The Calgary Herald published an article titled "Residential school payments gambled away." It was written by Richard Wagamese and paints a stark picture about how the common experience settlements were used by native people. Wagamese wrote anecdotal statements about how our First Nations elders do not know how to use their money wisely and that many wasted it on gambling, alcohol, drugs and "vehicles parked in the yard that [settlement recipients] cannot afford to gas and drive."

Wagamese goes on to state that "a report last week indicated a significant rise in alcohol abuse, drug addiction, domestic violence, suicide and death as a result of residential school settlement money," though he fails to cite the name or source of the report in question. Such an article serves to reinforce racist stereotypes of native people, and though Wagamese might have intended for his article to be a wake-up call for the aboriginal community, The Calgary Herald was not a proper avenue to do so.

If Mr. Wagamese takes the time to refer back to his own article from The Ottawa Citizen on May 7 of last year entitled "The value of residential schools," he will no doubt agree with the notion that there are wildly different experiences in almost any situation and that some may be positive. Apparently, Wagamese fails to understand that his examples of settlement money misuse may be an exception and not the rule.

In the Huu-ay-aht experience, many of our elders attended residential school when they were young. Their experiences were varied, many were abused or neglected, but the simple fact remains: their freedom and the freedom of their parents to raise their own children was taken away by the Crown and Churches. This is the basis for the common experience payments, the subsequent abuse and neglect were tragic additions to an already sorrowful story.

As a result of their shared experiences in residential school, many Huu-ay-aht elders were given a Common Experience Payment from the federal government. What follows are more examples of how these moneys were used by our people and will serve to further inform the public.

Marje White was featured in the October issue of Uyaqhmis as our featured elder. She is a well-respected and active member of not only the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, but the entire provincial and aboriginal community. She used her common experience payments to pay off her vehicle and other debts, renovate her home, pay for her share of an upcoming family potlatch, go for a small holiday and invest the remainder.

Fellow Vancouver resident, Bill Ginger, used his settlement to secure a business loan from the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation to get his fishing charter off the ground. He will be out on our traditional waters this coming fishing season.

Ernest and Shirley Jack, a fisherman and homemaker married for over forty years, used their common experience moneys to pay down some of their debts and pay bills. Their eldest daughter, Myrna Macleod, did the same.

Huu-ay-aht member Robert Dennis Senior used his money to pay down debts and help out his children and grandchildren. As did Ben Clappis and his wife Clara, who both used their money to purchase a much-needed truck and help out family.

These are mere examples, a small sample of how the settlement money was used by our people -- a people more similar to their family, friends and neighbours in the rest of Canada than Mr. Wagamese cared to express in his article. In the end, how a person handles his or her finances is a personal matter. To say anything less is an insult to those native elders who used their money wisely.


This article was originally published in the March 2009 Issue of Huu-ay-aht Uyaqhmis, a newsletter I help write and publish. Please visit the Huu-ay-aht First Nations website for more information. Kleko, kleko. (Thank you, thank you.)

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