VANCOUVER – Strappings, beatings with a pointed stick and orders to stand in the classroom corner for speaking her own language were among “horrific” measures that erased Darlene Bulpit’s ability to pass along her First Nations heritage to her two children and three grandchildren.
The 66-year-old from the Shishalh Indian band, on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, was allowed to go home at night and grins when she recalls learning to hunt with her brothers and bringing home “the prize.”
Each morning she trudged back to school with dread.
As a day scholar for eight years, Bulpit said she suffered similar harms as thousands of aboriginals who survived the residential school system. Yet unlike her peers, she was excluded from the federal government’s historic apology in July 2008 and was never awarded compensation.
The woman is among hundreds of First Nations plaintiffs who attended the notorious schools by day and now want to sue the Canadian government contending they were overlooked in the reconciliation process.
A Federal Court judge began hearing arguments on Monday by two B.C. Indian bands aiming to certify a class-action lawsuit for compensation. At least 300 survivors have been identified, but it’s expected there are many more across the country.
“It’s not over,” Bulpit said outside court. “We all experienced the same situation. I’m seeking justice from government and a real apology.”
Three separate streams will be considered by the court: for former day students, for their descendants and for bands impacted by members who attended residential schools as day students.
All students who were physically or sexually abused regardless of status at the schools were entitled to compensation under a legal agreement when the government acknowledged its role and produced a $1.9 billion package.
But those children expunged of language and culture during the day were ignored, including those in the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and Shishalh Indian bands in B.C., lawyer Peter Grant, who represents the plaintiffs, told the judge.
He said the honour of the Crown is at stake when it comes to fulfilling its legal obligation within the reconciliation framework.
“The harm goes deeper … than physical or sexual abuse,” Grant told the court in his opening remarks.
“As Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper said in the apology, the legacy of the residential schools is one of the loss of entire cultures. Language is no longer spoken, people broken and unable to celebrate their heritage.
“These deeper harms affect all aboriginal children, not just those who were in residence, all of those who were in the schools.”
Grant said he will present evidence during the week-long hearing that illustrates culture was eradicated in the same way for day scholars as those who lived at the schools.
Under the government’s policy of assimilation and pursuit of teaching only English, French and Christianity, it no longer had to forcibly remove children from their homes to have the same effect, he said.
Children were beaten and sometimes forced to put needles in their mouths. The results were considered a success by the schools. Parents stopped speaking to their children in their own language, Grant said.
Prior to the hearing, the legal teams looked on as the courtroom was blessed, a ceremonial song was performed and several regional chiefs donning headdress were introduced to the gallery by Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde.