QUEEN’S PARK, SIOUX LOOKOUT, FORT ALBANY, SIX NATIONS — Updated – 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.”
Minister Rickford’s office says “Minister Rickford is decades removed from the events that were complained about.
“Every single allegation against the member of this law firm were withdrawn or dismissed.
“Any inferences to the minister and these allegations are completely false.”
The Premier’s office has said that the claims against the Minister are inaccurate.
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.