Ontario chiefs are the latest Indigenous leaders to have raised concerns about the rapidly approaching deadline for class action lawsuit settlement applications for those who were harmed while attending federal Indian day schools.
“We believe this process is unfair to the survivors and the survivors are not getting the justice they ask for,” Chief Duke Peltier of Wiquemkung said at the Ontario Annual Chiefs’ Assembly in Toronto on Wednesday.
“We need immediate action.”
In 2019, Canada signed a $1.47 billion settlement agreement with thousands of former students in the federally funded day school system. Although separate from the boarding school system, Indian or federal day schools were part of a federal policy to assimilate indigenous children and were often affiliated with the Roman Catholic, United, Anglican and other churches.
From 1863 to 2000, there were about 700 day schools throughout Canada.
The claims process began in January 2020 and the deadline for filing a claim for compensation is July 13.
Forty-five chiefs who attended this week’s meeting signed a joint letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal ministers asking for a two-year extension.
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The letter also asks that the settlement agreement be amended so that victims can change the amount of compensation in their claim and that personal support outside of call centers is available to claimants.
As of June 3, 148,218 claims have been filed, 77% of which have been paid.
Ontario regional chapter Glen Hare survived the day school.
“All those who have been injured in their younger years, believe me, they don’t want to talk about it or they are uncomfortable talking about it, and they probably won’t even reveal the real hard side of what happened to them, ”- Hare. told CBC News.
“If they [the government] want to really work on reconciliation, I think they should treat us better.”
Concerns expressed by ministers
In February, the Anishinabeka Nation, representing 39 Indigenous peoples in Ontario, sent a letter to several federal ministers calling for a one-year deadline extension.
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The same concerns were echoed in April by leaders in New Brunswick.
Peltier raised the issue with Canada’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Patty Hajdu during Wednesday’s meeting.
“It’s disturbing to hear that survivors are not being approached through the lens of injury information, and certainly not something the government would like to see,” she said.
The following day, Iroquois and Allied Indian Association Grand Chief Joel Abram brought the assembly’s concerns to the attention of Crown and First Nations Secretary Mark Miller.
“Survivors get re-traumatized,” Abram said.
One of the concerns Abram raised was that survivors cannot change the level of compensation once their claim has been filed.
“Many people received the lowest compensation, although in fact they were abused and they are entitled to higher compensation,” Abram said.
“So this resolution process is preventing them from addressing this issue at this time, and this closed door is really against any injury-informed approach.”
6 month extension requests
Miller said the issue bothered him because he had heard other voices express similar concerns.
“We are currently looking at all possible options,” Miller said.
“But then again, Canada is not in a position to change that unilaterally. We need to discuss these issues with the class counselor.”
In a statement emailed to CBC News, Cam Cameron, Class Counselor (Gowling WLG) leading the Federal Indian Day School settlement, said survivors can submit an extension request form that allows a six-month extension period due to “unique impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic or any other emergency.”
“The group’s lawyer cannot comment on the opinion of third parties on the court-approved settlement,” Cameron said.
“Even with existing support, we recognize that some class members may find the claims process difficult (particularly in relation to probate claims) and may not be able to file before the deadline.”
Support is available to anyone who has been affected by their Indian or federal day school experience. People can get immediate mental health counseling and crisis intervention services from the Hope for Wellness Helpline by calling 1-855-242-3310 or online at www.hopeforwellness.ca.