In the 1950s and 60s, Abe Parenteau and George Munroe were forced to attend the Duck Bay Special School in their community, located on the west side of Lake Winnipegosis five hours northwest of Winnipeg.
Both of them – and others who were forced to attend day school – recount horrific stories of physical, sexual, emotional and mental abuse.
Many of their stories are as brutal and degrading as those told to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in testimony from residential school survivors.
Yet Canada has cut some of these students from settlement packages.
“They were fully responsible. They are fully responsible to rectify this matter and include everybody in a blanket situation and compensate of the these people that were left out from that package,” said Parenteau.
Canada has apologized to and compensated residential school survivors, and years later offered to settle with day school survivors, but thousands of former students remain excluded from both despite Canada’s insistence that it’s committed to truth and reconciliation.
APTN Investigates reporter Cullen Crozier produced a two-part documentary about these forgotten survivors, called Broken Circle which airs on APTN Nov 22 and 29.
“There are approximately 700 schools officially recognized as Indian Day Schools that were included in the (day school) settlement agreement but there were also around 680 that were excluded,” Crozier said.
“And when we started looking at the reasons that the federal government gave for exclusions, what we came across was primarily, according to the federal government, they were run or operated, or funded by other organizations.”
Churches and provincial governments, mostly. But the former students say Canada can’t absolve itself from its own policies that created these schools, regardless of who was paying for their operations.
Parenteau and Munroe have started the Unvalidated Schools Society of Canada to locate these forgotten students, and launch a class-action lawsuit against Canada and the churches and provinces involved with the excluded schools, on behalf of former students left out of the Indian Residential School and Indian Day School settlements.
They argue whether children were forced to live at a school or were allowed to go home at the end of the day, the purpose of residential and day schools were the same: to kill the Indian in the child and ‘civilize’ them to the colonial standard of the time.
“A lot of these students were abused physically, and raped and stuff like this and all we’re asking is justice,” said Munroe. “The Government of Canada keeps stipulating reconciliation with the Indian nations. What about reconciliation with the people and the students who were abused? This was torture, this was genocide.
“People have committed suicide because of the torture that was done to these children, to these students.
They’re in talks with three law firms to launch the suit.
“(We want) an apology to say ‘I’m sorry we took your dignity away, your way of life, and we would like to apologize for that.;” Parenteau said. “Those kinds of things would help us quite a bit and you know we could move forward and close this chapter if the government wants to compensate people who went through a lot of trauma.”
Former students or the estates of former students who were left off both settlements can get in touch with the Unvalidated Schools Society of Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org
With files from Cullen Crozier