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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 22:45 GMT
Abuse payout for native Canadians
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine
First Nations chief Phil Fontaine said the deal was a step towards closure
Canada has offered to pay more than C$2bn (US$1.7bn) compensation to indigenous people who were abused at government-funded residential schools.

Some 80,000 people who attended the schools over decades are eligible.

About 15,000 of them have begun legal claims against the government and Church, which ran the schools - to be dropped if they accept the deal.

The draft package must still be agreed by the courts but has been welcomed by indigenous leaders.

Thousands of former pupils at the 130 boarding schools have made allegations of physical and sexual abuse spanning seven decades.

Fast-track payments

The schools were set up in sparsely populated areas in an attempt to assimilate Canada's indigenous peoples - known as the First Nations - into mainstream society.

Attendance was mandatory and children were forcibly removed from their families and forbidden from speaking their language.

Today marks the first step towards closure on a terrible, tragic legacy
Phil Fontaine
First Nations chief
Most of the schools were shut down by the mid-1970s, with surviving students now 60 years old on average. Many victims have already died.

Under the terms of the draft deal, each claimant will be eligible to receive C$10,000 and then an additional $3,000 for each year they attended beyond their first year.

Those aged over 65 can apply for a fast-track advance payment of $8,000.

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine said the settlement was the biggest in Canadian history.

"Today marks the first step towards closure on a terrible, tragic legacy for the thousands of First Nations individuals who suffered physical, sexual or psychological abuse," he said.

"While no money will ever heal the scars, we hope this settlement package will bring comfort and a sense of victory and vindication for the children and grandchildren of survivors... It's been a wonderful day."

'Disgraceful act'

The deal also includes C$60m for a truth and reconciliation process designed to promote awareness of what happened in the schools.

John Beaucage, Grand Council Chief of the Union of Ontario Indians, said talking about "this dark chapter in Canadian history" was an important part of the healing process.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he hoped the package would bring a "just and lasting solution" for the victims.

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler described the abuse which took place as "the single most disgraceful, racist and harmful act in our history".

He said he hoped the settlement would mark a turning point for Canada.

The government has already settled about 2,800 of the 15,000 lawsuits already filed, paying out C$110m in compensation.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Canada
01 Nov 05 |  Country profiles
Canada's troubled native children
31 Jul 02 |  Americas
Abuse in Canada
28 Dec 00 |  Americas
Canada's natives take action
20 Jun 00 |  Americas


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