QUEEN’S PARK, SIOUX LOOKOUT, FORT ALBANY, SIX NATIONS — The Official Opposition NDP is joining residential school Survivors in asking for Minister Greg Rickford to be removed as Indigenous Affairs minister, as Survivors raise concerns about his involvement in a residential school settlement that left them feeling betrayed and further victimized.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and critic for Indigenous and Treaty Relations Sol Mamakwa were joined by Lac Seul First Nation Elder and Order of Canada recipient Garnet Angeconeb, and residential school Survivors Edmund Metatawabin and Darlene LaForme on Friday. They say they don’t feel comfortable with Rickford taking a lead role in the search of former residential school grounds.
Before being elected, Rickford signed a federal residential school Settlement Agreement on behalf of residential school Survivors represented by law firm Keshen and Major. But dozens of Survivors filed complaints about the firm’s handling of their compensation. Among them were allegations that Rickford’s partner, Doug Keshen, transferred thousands of dollars in Survivors’ compensation to himself, wrongly charged Survivors administrative fees and arranged loans at high interest rates. Those claims have not been proven in the tribunal process.
“When I hear Minister Greg Rickford talking about reconciliation in the aftermath of residential schools, it opens painful wounds,” said Angeconeb. “People felt hurt, betrayed and taken advantage of by the Keshen and Major law firm and Mr. Rickford was a part of that machine. They had all the power, all the money and all the lawyers, so Survivors felt helpless to stand up for themselves when they believed their settlements were mishandled.”
Horwath says the concerns of Angeconeb and the Survivors must be taken seriously.
“If Survivors don’t trust Minister Rickford, or feel retraumatized by him, how could he be the right person to take a lead role in the residential school searches?” said Horwath.
Mamakwa, who also attended residential school, said Rickford is not an appropriate choice for Indigenous Affairs minister.
“Some Survivors tell me they feel hurt, revictimized, confused and angry when they hear Minister Rickford speaking about reconciliation, because of the distrust that was built between First Nations people, Rickford and Keshen and Major,” said Mamakwa. “If Minister Rickford continues to play a lead role in the search for our loved ones and our ancestors, there are First Nations people who will never be able to join the searches, and never feel that their families are being honoured and respected during the process.”
The Law Society of Ontario examined the conduct of Keshen, but those hearings stopped in 2017 due to “serious systemic issues involving the Law Society’s regulatory and hearing process in relation to Indigenous issues.” That left Survivors with nowhere to turn for the justice they seek. Rickford was a character witness for Keshen in those hearings.
Darlene LaForme, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory
“As children and as First Nations people, we were not treated as real people in the past, and now we want to make sure we exercise our rights. We know what we want as Survivors, and we do not want to be taken advantage of.”
Edmund Metatawabin, Peetabeck Keway Keykaywin Association Association
“The justice system of Canada has continuously failed to properly represent the legal rights of residential school Survivors.”
- The federal Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement was signed in 2006. Greg Rickford signed the Settlement Agreement on behalf of Survivors represented by the Kenora law firm Keshen Major. (Attached)
- In June 2014, CBC reported that Doug Keshen and his firm Keshen and Major were being investigated after complaints about the treatment of residential school Survivors. Complainants indicated the residential school Survivors received thousands of dollars less in settlement payments than they were issued and that Mr. Keshen took clients’ money from his trust account to pay his fees without sending a bill, charged unfair legal fees and did not handle settlement funds correctly.
- Rickford provided a character reference for Keshen in the Law Society process.
- The Law Society process failed to produce a satisfying outcome, and admitted its failings. They instead asked former Assembly of First Nations Chief Ovide Mercredi to conduct a review. Mercredi reported that the Survivors “felt betrayed by their lawyer… they did not understand the Law Society’s process. Many of them think they went to court when attending before the Law Society Tribunal.”
- In 2015, Keshen “crashed” a gathering of residential school Survivors, at the site of the former Pelican Lake Residential School outside Sioux Lookout. He was asked to leave because his presence was disrespectful, and making Survivors uncomfortable.
- Garnet Angeconeb is now calling on Canada’s Department of Justice to investigate the process undertaken by the Law Society.
- In a letter to Premier Doug Ford, Chief Mark B. Hill, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, expressed concerns about Rickford “managing the government’s support to communities that are recovering their children.”
Edmund Metatawabin, C.M. is a former Chief of Fort Albany First Nation and is an author, educator and activist. He is from the Fort Albany First Nation and is a Survivor of St. Anne's Residential School in Fort Albany First Nation.
Garnet Angeconeb, C.M. is Anishinaabe from the Lac Seul First Nation and now lives in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. Garnet is a journalist, advocate for reconciliation and former municipal councillor in Sioux Lookout. He is a Survivor of the Pelican Indian Residential School near Sioux Lookout.
Darlene LaForme is from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. She is a registered Social Worker and is a mentor and life skills coach to women of the Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississauga of the New Credit territory. She is a Survivor of the Mohawk Institute in Brantford.