Aboriginal Healing Foundation – Lump Sum Compensation Payments Study

by NationTalk on February 9, 20081165 Views

Lump Sum Compensation Payments Research Project: The Circle Rechecks Itself

Prepared for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation
Madeleine Dion Stout
Rick Harp

In a report of this nature, where faithful reproduction of individual experiences and perceptions is of critical importance, one proceeds with due care and circumspection when attempting generalized assertions concerning Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation feels however that preliminary generalizations pertaining to two subjects are required at the outset of this project.Communication of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement The first generalization relates to the confusion surrounding the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and associated matters such as the Common Experience Payment or the Independent Assessment Process. Statements of interviewees recorded in this report may suggest to the reader ignorance or misunderstanding. Confusion however derives not necessarily from these, but in many cases from: a) changes of government strategies and initiatives around all facets of the residential school issue, b) a lack of clear policies and institutional jurisdiction, and c) an absence of coordinated communications efforts among the agencies responsible for Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement initiatives. To be fair, one should acknowledge that the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is an enormous bureaucratic undertaking and that some shortcomings are to be expected. However, it is also the case that communication to Survivors has often been sporadic, incomplete, contradictory, or inaccurate.

Traditional Views of Money

The second generalization relates to money. While a range of views about money may be found among Aboriginal people, as it may indeed among any group of individuals, a core set of themes in this report supports the following statements. The first is that Aboriginal cultures are informed by collectivist world views in which the traditional ethic of sharing is paramount. Sustained efforts by successive governments to assimilate Aboriginal people have weakened, but not overtaken, collectivist views. Money is therefore often viewed by Aboriginal people as a collective good, to be shared with family, friends, and community. The cultural norms of sharing will inform how money arriving into Aboriginal communities through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is viewed, disbursed, and dispensed.

While traditional cultural norms may shape how money is viewed and used, money nonetheless enters Aboriginal communities attended by unease, especially when the source of this money is government. In simple terms, money is often viewed with suspicion as an instrument which government will use to manipulate and undermine Aboriginal people. Speaking of compensation, one interviewee asserted that “Those who were living traditional lives […] abandoned this way of life for the money. The government threw this money out and caused chaos” (31). Ulterior motives and negative consequences are suspected where government money is concerned.

Furthermore, the values of cultures organized around exchanges of money at times contradict the values of traditional, non-monetized Aboriginal cultures. As one interviewee puts it, “The almighty dollar has broken down our relationships and community-mindedness”(41). Perhaps the most effective illustration of this contradiction is the differing views of land within Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures, the former regarding land as a trans-generational communal resource and the latter as a divisible good fit for individual ownership and economic exploitation. Where such fundamental contradictions subsist, money is necessarily viewed by Aboriginal people with wariness as assimilation’s “Trojan horse.”

Although this report does not attempt a formal study of the social ideology of money, such a consideration is implicit throughout. There is much theoretical complexity and contradiction between the economic individualism of “Western” societies and the traditional cultures of Aboriginal people. At the practical level, collectivist values will be balanced against individual rights, in particular the right of former residential school attendees to receive and use their money free of judgement, paternalistic meddling, or external pressure. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation ultimately places faith in the resilience and capacity of Aboriginal people. Our communities will work out their destinies in the manner they deem most fitting. Toward this end, the report presents a strategic framework and a set of priority recommendations that come from Survivors themselves.

Aboriginal Healing Foundation

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