WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
As deadline approaches for nationwide class action settlement for First Nations and Inuit children who suffered harm while attending federally-run Indian Day Schools, requests for extension mount .
The deadline to submit a claim for the $1.47 billion settlement between Canada and thousands of former students of the federally funded day school system is July 13.
But some survivors may need more time.
“A lot of community members procrastinated because it was very traumatic for them,” said Louise Mayo, a project coordinator hired to help asylum seekers in the Kanien’kehá:ka community in Kahnawake, south from Montreal.
“They find it very difficult to sit down and write it, so they just postponed it.”
Although separate from the residential school system, Indian day schools were part of a federal policy to assimilate First Nations and Inuit children and often had affiliations with the Roman Catholic, United, Anglican, and other churches.
Nearly 700 Indian Day Schools operated across Canada between 1863 and 2000, including 10 in Kahnawake. Mayo was hired by the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake to provide support and advocacy for survivors in her community.
She said many people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression as a result of their attendance at the institutions. As the July deadline approached, she said she was busier than ever, fielding 30 to 60 calls and support requests each week.
“There’s still a lot of people I haven’t seen yet, and I don’t know if I’m going to last until July with the number of files I’m carrying right now,” she said.
Mayo said she is also concerned that some people will miss the deadline if they have not yet started claims requiring medical clearances or estate services from Indigenous Services Canada.
Possibility to request a 6-month extension
Indigenous Services Canada said in an emailed statement to CBC News that there is an expedited priority process of less than 60 days for the appointment of estate administrators and executors for estates that may be affected by the settlement.
Cam Cameron, lead class counsel for the Federal Indian Day School Settlement, acknowledged that the deadline is causing anxiety in some communities, but pointed out that a six-month extension to the claims process is included in the settlement agreement.
Since July 13, applicants can submit a form to request an extension. An Exceptions Committee appointed by the Federal Court of Canada will assess each application.
“That should give some confidence that you won’t run out of time,” Cameron said of the extension process. “You just need to give a reason why you couldn’t do it [in the] 2 and a half years in advance.”
Request a one-year extension
But Travis Boissoneau, deputy chief of the Lake Huron Grand Regional Council for the Anishinabek Nation, said it shouldn’t be the burden of survivors to fill out other paperwork for an extension.
“The current process is as difficult as it is for claimants,” Boissoneau said. “Adding fine print, in terms of expanding on a one-to-one basis, really creates more challenges.”
In February, the Anishinabek Nation, which represents 39 First Nations across the province of Ontario, sent a letter to several federal ministers asking that the deadline be extended by a year.
The same concerns were echoed last month by First Nations chiefs in New Brunswick, as well as several other regional advocacy groups.
“We have communicated our concerns. Our concerns are not taken seriously,” said Boissoneau.
“Our citizens need time… The Government of Canada has a real opportunity here to show true reconciliation and an understanding of the limitations placed on literal victims who go through this process.”
144,000 complaints already submitted
When asked if Ottawa would consider an extension, a statement from the federal Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs outlined the existing bidding process, noting the six-month extension.
“Canada cannot unilaterally change the claim period deadline,” the statement told CBC News. “Questions about the extension of time should be directed to Class Counsel… who have been chosen by the Survivors to represent the interests of Class Members throughout this process.”
As of May 2, 2022, more than 144,000 claims had been submitted to the Claims Administrator, according to the statement. More than 110,000 eligible class members have received compensation.
Support is available for anyone impacted by their experience at Indian or Federal Day Schools, and for those who are triggered by these reports. People can access mental health counseling and crisis intervention immediately at the Hope for Wellness Helpline by calling 1-855-242-3310 or online at www.hopeforwellness.ca.