Open Letter to the Waswanipi Survivors of the Mohawk Residential School (Brantford, Ontario)
I have attended meetings both in London and conducted meetings in the community to relate information and to gain instructions from the survivors to convey to the lawyers working on the lawsuit. I am a member of the Steering Committee for the advancement of the lawsuit, which meets in London to give instructions to the law team and to receive information on the progress of the team’s efforts. I need to thank former Chief Paul Gull for his brave stand on ensuring that our community was represented in the lawsuit. Paul always made sure that there was sufficient funding for our survivors to take an active role in giving instructions to the law team.
Unfortunately for the survivors in this community, when he became Deputy Grand Chief, we no longer have the same backing. Twice now, my requests for funding to travel to London to meet with the law team have been turned down for lack of funds. It is frustrating and sad to believe that our Chief and Council do not share the view that our former Chief endowed on his community.
I have never asked to be paid for my time and efforts, only for the cost of the expense of travelling to these meetings. It is too important to you (survivors), my community and Cree history to be ignored or to insist on payment for my time. I know my efforts will be rewarded at the conclusion of the lawsuit with the knowledge that my efforts have helped my community members receive their fair and due compensation from the Government of Canada.
In late 2003, the Government of Canada implemented the much-disputed “Alternative Dispute Resolution Programme” (ADR). When the applications became available, I ordered copies to investigate and review. Both my wife (the former assistant to the lead counsel and law clerk to the law team on the Mohawk class action lawsuit in Ontario) and I were left with many questions and concerns. We travelled to Ottawa to meet with one of the Directors of the Programme and voiced our concerns. We sought advice from legal counsel. We met with many survivors and explained the Programme and process that the Government was putting forward. The Programme was, and still is, full of shortcomings. The AFN has tried to reconstruct the programme with suggestions of improvement. For the most part, those suggestions have fallen on deaf ears. Furthermore, when the decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal was released last week finally certifying the class action lawsuit, the Court (S. T. Goudge, J.A.) said of the ADR Programme:
“It deals only with physical and sexual abuse. It caps the amount of possible recovery and, most importantly in these circumstances, compared to the class action it shares the access to justice deficiencies of individual actions. It does not compare favourably with a common trial.”
We are currently following a test case that is presently being prepared for the adjudication process.
On December 3, 2004, the lead counsel on the lawsuit, Russell Raikes, called me only minutes after he received the Court of Appeal’s decision on the lawsuit. Both my wife, Rachelle, and myself were asked to attend a meeting of the Steering Committee in London, Ontario on December 17, 2004. Mr. Raikes knows that my wife and I have worked tremendously hard on this lawsuit. I made a request to the Chief for funding for travel to this meeting.
On Thursday December 9, 2004, I was informed by the Chief’s office that we wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting because there is no funding (money) available for travel expenses to the meeting! So, I have to ask myself, “Where is the $6 million that was distributed to the community only eight months ago?” Before the new agreement was signed, there was always funding available to attend these meetings. It was a priority of our former Chief to give support to the survivors and stand behind them in support of the lawsuit. It was very embarrassing to call the law team and inform them that we would not be attending the meeting because of lack of funding. I want you to know that I have done my very best in the past to keep you informed. It is not me who has lost interest in supporting our survivors.
I feel that we have been left in the dark by our Chief and Council. Not only for me, but for all the Mohawk survivors. I know that I have told many of you that I will report back to you when I return from meeting on December 17th with the law firm. Because of the lack of funding, I cannot do this and I apologize.
At this time, I feel sad and defeated by the present Council’s apparent lack of care, responsibility and concern for the survivors in this community – and other Cree communities who are touched by this very important Court decision. Just as the residential school experiences were a very important piece of Canadian and Cree history – so is this lawsuit that seeks to right the wrongs of many years ago. I would suggest to you that there is not one member of this nation that is not affected by the black mark of Canada’s history. Moreover, there are generational effects that touch each and every member of this proud nation. We have come a long way since the beginning of this lawsuit, may we have the courage to seek its end.
Johnny F. Ottereyes, Sr.