First Nations chiefs in New Brunswick are demanding a one-year extension for landing applications to Indian Day Schools so that survivors can get support during the process, which has been difficult during the pandemic.
Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation, about 120 kilometers northwest of Moncton, said the current process is traumatic for survivors.
“If the Government of Canada was honest and serious about reconciliation, then it would,” Ginnish said.
“They wouldn’t let time pass.”
Ginnish and 14 other New Brunswick chiefs released a statement this week calling on Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller to extend the deadline for day school claims to July 2023.
Indian or Federal Day Schools were federally run facilities that attempted to rid Native children of their language and culture, and some children were victims of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
A class action lawsuit was settled in 2019 and survivors could file compensation claims starting in January 2020. Compensation is through a tiered system for damages suffered, from tier one to tier five, ranging from $10,000 to $200,000. Survivors who make claims for levels two through five must write a statement disclosing details of the abuse they suffered.
Ginnish said writing these revelations is traumatic for members of their community.
“They’re really re-traumatizing our elders, and if that continues, then so will the intergenerational trauma,” Ginnish said.
A spokesperson for Gowling WLG Group Counsel wrote in an email to CBC News that if someone is unable to file a claim by the July 13, 2022 deadline “due to the unique impacts of pandemic or other extraordinary circumstance,” then he can request a six-month extension.
“That said, with just over two months until the deadline, we strongly encourage claimants to begin the claims process sooner rather than relying on the Exceptions Committee to grant a six-month extension,” wrote the spokesperson.
Class Counsel provide free assistance to claimants.
Alone during the pandemic
A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada referred questions about the extension to class counsel.
They said in an emailed statement that Canada recognizes that it can be difficult for survivors to uncover past abuses and that those in need of immediate assistance can contact the Hope for Wellness Helplineand that the Non-Insured Health Benefits for First Nations and Inuit program covers mental health counseling services.
They added that the settlement included $200 million for the McLean Day School Establishment Company to support commemoration projects, health and wellness programs, truth events, and the restoration and preservation of Indigenous languages and culture.
Ginnish said survivors were promised legal, technical and mental wellness support to deal with trauma when applying, but instead many survivors found they had to file their case. on their own due to the pandemic. Some found the disclosure process too intimidating, so they settled for level one compensation.
Ginnish calls for a reassessment of cases where survivors have sought and received compensation but filed without the proper support. He would also like any survivor who has lost their Indigenous language to automatically receive $100,000, as it is always difficult to revitalize the language.
“They have to show us they’re serious about it,” Ginnish said.
“More harmful than beneficial”
Susan Levi-Peters, former Chief of the Elsipogtog First Nation, attended Big Cove Federal School for 10 years.
She works with day school survivors in her community who request a reassessment of their case. Levi-Peters said the application process was confusing for many.
“The process was more damaging than beneficial,” Levi-Peters said.
Survivors need more time to write down their disclosures, she said, adding that she has seen people who have had to take breaks to get by.
She also said that having access to a lawyer was helpful and that she has hired a lawyer to help people who are asking for reconsideration. She said it helped ease the stress survivors felt.
“I think every community needs to go back and look at applications from members of their community,” Levi-Peters said.
She would like to see an indefinite extension. Some abuse became normalized among survivors, she said, and only once survivors heard that what had happened to them was wrong did they understand it as abuse.
Levi-Peters hopes Indigenous communities will have time to heal.
“This didn’t happen overnight and it won’t be resolved overnight,” she said.