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Church cites lack of progress in talks.

Church organizations and the federal government are no closer to reaching an agreement on how to resolve residential schools claims following a three-day meeting held in Winnipeg at the end of August.

In a press release issued by the United Church of Canada on Aug. 17, Archdeacon Jim Boyles, chair of the Ecumenical Working Group on Residential Schools, indicated the three days of talks with officials from the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution of Canada resulted in "no significant progress."

"It seems that the mandate of the officials negotiating on behalf of the government of Canada is not broad enough to address the real problems in the way of an agreement. We will be reflecting on these matters and planning our next steps," the archdeacon was quoted in the release.

The Reverend Brian Thorpe is senior advisor for the Residential Schools Steering Committee for the United Church of Canada.

"I think in a broad sense, there've been a number of areas where the talks have been difficult," Reverend Thorpe said when asked about the talks.

"I think everyone's agreed that we need to resolve, these issues between church and government. Because this has not been helpful to anyone, particularly to the survivors, in the sense that the time spent with government and church arguing with each other over who's responsible for what is draining and isn't addressing the real issue, which is just resolution for the survivors," Thorpe said.

One of the stumbling blocks in the talks appears to be the federal government's reluctance to expand negotiations to deal with the cultural losses associated with residential schools. In a statement released in July, the United Church announced it wouldn't reach an agreement with government unless addressing cultural loss was part of the package.

"In that press release, what we were trying to say is that's one of the tension points at the moment between ourselves and the government," Thorpe explained.

"And that's one of the things from our point of view particularly, the whole question of cultural loss, language loss, all of those issues which have yet to be... there aren't any court decisions around any of those issues. And in that sense it's unlike sexual and physical abuse, where there at least are standards in the court, and are recognized generally to be criminal acts," he said.

"But the whole question of the role of the schools in the loss of culture, we felt that it's, particularly in any kind of alternative to the courts, if you're going into alternate dispute resolution, those issues need to be on the table. And up to this point, there's been a great deal of resistance from the government around that."

Shawn Tupper is director general of the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution of Canada. When asked to comment on the ongoing negotiations, he said the churches left the Winnipeg talks feeling little progress had been made because the tough issues had finally made it to the table.

"Well, in general terms, we're trying not to negotiate in public, so I can't give you a great deal of detail, but indeed, we set for ourselves--Canada and the churches--a fairly ambitious agenda for the summer to try and progress the talks that Minister [Herb] Gray has been leading with them. And we've had a number of meetings through the summer to look at how we can resolve the differences that exist with respect to apportionment and what not. And I think what happened in Winnipeg is that we've kind of moved forward through the summer, but we've started to hit the hardest issues. And in Winnipeg, they put some very hard issues on the table that hadn't been discussed to that point, and I think the churches came away feeling frustrated about those issues, because they are the ones that are going to be the hardest to resolve," Tupper said.

Regarding the church's requirement that cultural loss caused by the residential school system be addressed during the talks, Tupper explained that was not the approach being put forward by government.

"The government's position with respect to language and culture loss in these claims has been that we need to look elsewhere to find solutions to address that, that the courts have not recognized that as a compensible issue within the judicial system, and we need to look at the kind of program or policy responses that can address that.

"And it's a much broader issue than just individuals. It speaks to the effect and the legacy of the whole residential school system. So indeed, the government's taken the position that we don't want to compensate individually by case for language and culture, but we do want to look at and address the broader issues of what policies or programs might be put in place to address the impact of the residential school system as a whole," Tupper said.

When asked if the government approach was agreeable to the churches, or if they were still standing firm on their assertion that cultural loss must be part of the negotiations, Tupper said that was a detail of the negotiations, and he couldn't comment.

"Our sense is that all the parties are committed to these negotiations, and to getting resolution as quickly as possible, and we're looking forward to our next meeting," Tupper said.

Reverend Thorpe was noncommittal when asked if he was optimistic that the obstacles currently hindering discussions with government could be overcome.

"I think we'll know better in another couple of weeks. We're continuing to work away at it, and we'll see how it goes. It's really hard to say at this point."

Representatives from the four churches were scheduled to meet at the end of August, and another meeting with government was expected to take place in early September.
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Title Annotation:United Church of Canada and residential school claims
Author:Petten, Cheryl
Publication:Wind Speaker
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
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