Government announces deal with second church to settle lawsuits over abuse in residential

A second church has reached agreement with the Canadian government on helping pay settlements of some of the thousands of lawsuits over abuse at Indian residential schools.

Public Works Minister Ralph Goodale announced Thursday the Presbyterian Church has offered to pay up to Canadian $2.1 million (US$ 1.4 million) to cover 30 percent of valid settlements for physical and sexual abuse in the schools it ran. The federal government would pay the rest.

The Presbyterians also would spend at least C$500,000 (US$ 330,000) on healing programs for people affected by the residential school abuse.

If ratified by the church, the deal would be another step toward settling the lawsuits over the schools run by the government and four churches, including the Presbyterians, the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church and the Roman Catholic Church.

Tens of thousands of Indian children attended the residential schools from 1930 until the last one closed in 1996. Funded by the federal government but run by the churches until the mid-1970s, the schools are blamed for stripping Indian children of their native language and culture.

More than 4,500 lawsuits representing 12,000 claimants have been filed, many alleging physical and sexual abuse. The government apologized in 1998 for widespread abuse at the schools.

Last month, the government announced a similar deal with the Anglican church, which agreed to pay up to C$25 million (US$16 million) for 30 percent of valid settlements involving schools it ran.

The Anglicans ran 18 percent of the residential schools, while the Presbyterians ran less than 2 percent. More than 70 percent were Roman Catholic and the rest United.

People who attended the schools say that along with the abuse they faced, they often returned home with emotional scars that exacerbated the poverty, joblessness and alcoholism endemic to many Indian reservations.