Day-school survivor ‘more than happy’ to reach settlement

A day-school survivor who suffered physical and psychological abuse at the hands of nuns who ran a government-funded school, says she’s “more than happy” to reach a settlement in the class-action suit.

Angel Sampson, a survivor of the Tsartlip Indian Day School on the Saanich Peninsula, said she endured years of abuse, including one incident so violent she described it as “attempted murder.”

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The school’s principal threw her against a cement wall. She landed on a cement pad and was knocked out. She had just started Grade 3.

“I don’t remember much of the rest of the school year,” she said. “I don’t remember anything good happening.”

On Aug. 19, Justice Michael Phelan approved a settlement in the class-action lawsuit against the federal government to compensate thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Métis who attended a day school funded by and controlled by the government.

The settlement offers compensation to former students based on the level of harm they suffered, from $10,000 to $200,000.

In his decision, Phelan wrote that the physical, sexual and emotional abuse inflicted on students at day schools was similar to the abuses recognized in the settlement that provided compensation to survivors of residential schools. Day-school students were not included in that settlement.

Canada will provide more than $1.47 billion in compensation to survivors, as well as $200 million in funding for wellness support and language and cultural initiatives.

Sampson started working toward this conclusion about two decades ago when she started a small talking circle.

At the time, the handful involved didn’t know who would listen to their stories, and it didn’t go anywhere.

Now, Sampson believes people are listening.

“The more people that know about our people, and what happened to us — we can have truth and reconciliation,” she said.

But she’s frustrated it took so long to get to this point.

“A lot of our people are dying. A lot of people have died, and will never see that settlement,” Sampson said, becoming emotional as she referred to lead plaintiff Garry McLean, who died in February.

McLean took his story to Gowling WLG law firm and launched the class-action suit. It feels bittersweet to Sampson that McLean didn’t live to see the conclusion to the case he fought so hard for.

“He was an amazing man,” she said. “He was the most forgiving man.”

About 127,000 of 190,000 former day school students were still living as of October 2017. The families of survivors who passed away on or after July 31, 2007, are eligible to receive compensation through their family member’s estate.

To Sampson, this reflects the intergenerational trauma stemming from the schools.

“It didn’t just happen to, say, me. It impacted my family as well, and in not such a good way,” she said.

Sampson had a hard time trusting other adults, especially teachers, with her son when he was growing up. She pulled him out of school in Grade 11 after a teacher left him with bruises.

“He didn’t get to graduate, and I feel horribly about that,” said Sampson, who herself was the first in her family of 12 to graduate from high school.

“I couldn’t let up. I couldn’t stop myself from being overprotective, because I had gone through so much abuse.”

While no amount of money will make up for the pain survivors experienced in the schools, Sampson said she feels she is finally getting closure with the settlement in the case.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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