The Chiefs of Ontario are the latest First Nations leaders to express concerns with the fast-approaching deadline to apply for the class action settlement for those who suffered harm while attending federally-run Indian day schools.
“We feel that the process is unfair to survivors, and survivors are not getting the justice that they’re asking for,” said Wikwemkoong Chief Duke Peltier Wednesday at the Chiefs of Ontario’s Annual Chiefs Assembly in Toronto.
“We do need action immediately.”
In 2019, Canada signed a $1.47-billion settlement with thousands of former students of the federally funded day school system. While separate from the residential school system, Indian or federal day schools were a part of a federal policy aimed at assimilating Indigenous children, and often had affiliations to the Roman Catholic, United, Anglican and other churches.
Nearly 700 day schools operated across Canada between 1863 and 2000.
The claims process opened in January 2020 and the deadline to submit a claim for compensation is July 13.
Forty-five chiefs in attendance at this week’s assembly signed a joint letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal ministers requesting a two-year extension of the deadline.
The letter also requests that the settlement agreement be amended to ensure survivors are able to change the level of compensation in their claim, and that in-person support is available for claimants, beyond call centres.
As of June 3, a total of 148,218 claims had been filed, with 77 per cent of them paid out.
Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare is a survivor of the day school system.
“Anyone that was traumatized in their young years, believe me, they don’t want to talk about it or they’re not comfortable talking about it and they probably won’t even disclose the real heavy side of what happened to them,” Hare told CBC News.
“If they [the government] want to really work on reconciliation, I think they need to treat us better.”
Concerns raised with ministers
In February, the Anishinabek Nation, which represents 39 First Nations throughout the province of Ontario, issued a letter to multiple federal ministers calling for the deadline to be extended by a year.
The same concerns were echoed in April by chiefs in New Brunswick.
Peltier raised the issue with Indigenous Services Canada Minister Patty Hajdu during the assembly on Wednesday.
“It is disturbing to hear that survivors are not being treated through a trauma-informed lens and certainly would not be something that this government would want to see happen,” she said.
The next day, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians Grand Chief Joel Abram brought the assembly’s concerns forward to Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller.
“Survivors are being retraumatized,” said Abram.
One of the concerns raised by Abram was how survivors are unable to change the level of compensation once their claim is filed.
“Many people ended up with the lowest compensation, when in fact they were abused and they are owed higher compensation,” said Abram.
“So this settlement process has no way for them to fix that problem currently, and this closed door is really contrary to any kind of trauma-informed approach.”
6-month extension requests
Miller said the issue is a concern for him, having heard other voices express similar concerns.
“We’re looking currently in all openness to a number of options,” said Miller.
“But again, Canada is not in a position to change this unilaterally. We do need to engage with class counsel on these concerns.”
In an emailed statement to CBC News, Cam Cameron, class counsel (Gowling WLG) lead for the Federal Indian Day School settlement, said survivors can submit an extension request form which allows a six-month extension period due to “unique impacts, which have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic or any other extraordinary circumstances.”
“Class counsel is not in a position to comment on third-party views about the court-approved settlement agreement,” said Cameron.
“Even with the existing supports available, we acknowledge that some class members may find the claims process challenging (notably, concerning estate claims) and may be unable to submit a claim prior to the deadline.”
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at Indian or federal day schools. Individuals can access immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention services at the Hope for Wellness helpline by calling 1-855-242-3310 or online at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
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