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Sask. man who endured school abuse says compensation denied over technicality


A man who suffered years of abuse at a day school on Poundmaker Cree Nation says he had his compensation claim rejected on a technicality.

Under the terms of a class action settlement with the federal government, Indian Day School students were entitled to receive compensation for the damages and abuses they suffered.

When Melvin Sapp applied for compensation, he wrote the name of the school in his native Cree, Pîhtokahanapiwiyin, known in English as Poundmaker.

In May 2020, Sapp got a letter from the claims administrator Deloitte saying they received his application and that the federal government would clarify his eligibility within 60 days.

He didn’t receive another communication from Deloitte until two years later, only two months from the final deadline.

They said they had confirmed “with supplemental information provided by Canada” that he didn’t attend an eligible federally-run day school for the years he stated in the application.

Strange, because Poundmaker is on the official list of federal Indian Day Schools, Schedule K. Sapp thought they may have been confused because he wrote it in Cree, but that’s what they all called it when he was a kid.

“Nobody spoke English on the reserve, hardly, unless there was a white person around.”

In a statement to CTV News on Thursday, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Crown and Indigenous Relations said it was not a mistake of translation.

“The Poundmaker Federal Day School (eligible for compensation from 1879 to September 1, 1983) was operating as a Kindergarten only as of the 1974-75 school year as the students were attending the Pehtokahanopewin, also known as Pehtok, band-operated school,” the statement said.

The ministry says the federally-run day school on Poundmaker Cree Nation operated only as a Kindergarten until it was transferred to the band in 1983.

Mission schools, joint schools, provincial and band-operated schools are not eligible for compensation as Canada was not responsible for the administration of these schools, the spokesperson said.

“You can’t tell me the band ran the school with band money,” said Sapp. He says the federal government was still responsible for the school because the bands themselves were a federal creation and the schools were entirely funded by federal dollars.

Sapp says his little brother wrote “Pîhtokahanapiwiyin, aka Poundmaker” on his application and it was approved, although he only applied for the first level of compensation, which didn’t require a declaration. Sapp, who says he endured years of physical abuse at the school, applied for level two compensation.

Sapp was 10-years-old in 1974 when he was sent to Pîhtokahanapiwiyin on Poundmaker Indian Reserve. It served the adjacent First Nations of Poundmaker and Little Pine, where he’s from. The teachers and administrators were all settlers, he says.

“All of a sudden you’re put in a place where you have to speak English; was pretty traumatizing, because I didn’t even really know how to read the books either, and when you don’t read them and you say something wrong I used to get my hair pulled, being humiliated right in front of the class,” said Sapp.

“I kind of had a learning disability at the time, and I don’t know why they never seen that.”

The worst treatment came from his principal, he says. He was getting sent to her office for discipline on a regular basis, and Sapp says she would make him pull his pants down and bend over so she could hit him with a ruler.

When he was about 12 years old, Sapp says she accused him of making a mess in the washroom.

“She did beat me up in a washroom to the point of unconsciousness and just left me there. She pulled me by the ears and just banged me against the wall so my head was hitting the wall, and while she was doing that she was yelling at the same time, and I just heard that faint yelling and lost consciousness,” said Sapp.

It wasn’t an atmosphere conducive to learning. Sapp says he was repeatedly held back. When he left school at 15 years old, he hadn’t completed Grade 6. For years afterward, Sapp says he drank to try to feel better.

Now sober 14 years, Sapp was hoping to use the settlement to help his son pay for post-secondary education.

“He’s turning 15 next month … I want to make sure he doesn’t go through what I went through. I want him to have a successful future,” said Sapp.

Noel Blackstar went to school with Sapp in Poundmaker before returning to Moosomin. He received compensation based on his time at a day school on Moosomin First Nation. Their schools robbed them of an education, he says.

“We never got the chance to be a proper student anywhere. And to this day all of us are suffering from lack of education.” Top Stories

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