Culture Loss and Crumbling Skulls: The Problematic of Injury in Residential School Litigation



This article examines the relationship that emerged between injury and indigeneity in a recent residential school lawsuit in Canada. In Blackwater v. Plint (2001, 2003, 2005), several former residential school students sued Canada and the United Church for injuries they sustained as a result of sexual and physical abuse, neglect, and forced assimilation at the Alberni Indian Residential School. The plaintiffs argued that their loss of culture and language was an injury for which Canada and the United Church should be held liable. During the trial these plaintiffs tried to construct an uninjured aboriginality as normative prior to attending the residential school. Church and government lawyers, however, reified aboriginality in a way that made injury the true difference that resides in aboriginal people and something for which the plaintiffs rather than the government or church were to blame. This article shows how the logic of tort law combined with existing assumptions about aboriginal people to facilitate these arguments. Throughout, the article draws attention to the importance of the law and legal processes as sites for the negative construction of aboriginality.