WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
As the deadline for the countrywide class-action settlement for First Nations and Inuit children who suffered harm while attending federally run Indian day schools approaches, calls for an extension are growing.
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.
“There are many community members that have procrastinated, because it’s been very traumatic for them,” said Louise Mayo, a project co-ordinator hired to assist claimants in the Kanien’kehá:ka community of Kahnawake, south of Montreal.
“They find it very difficult to sit down and write it, so they’ve just been putting it off.”
While separate from the residential school system, Indian day schools were a part of a federal policy aimed at assimilating 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 are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression as a result of their attendance at the institutions. As the July deadline approaches, she said she’s busier than ever, fielding 30-60 calls and requests for support each week.
“There’s still a lot of people that I have yet to see, and I don’t know if I’m going to make it until July with the number of files that I’m carrying right now,” she said.
Mayo said she is also worried some people may not make the deadline if they haven’t yet started claims that need medical attestations or estate services from Indigenous Services Canada.
Ability to request 6-month extension
Indigenous Services Canada said in an emailed statement to CBC News that there’s an expedited priority process of less than 60 days for appointing estate administrators and executors for estates that may be impacted by the settlement.
Cam Cameron, class counsel lead for the Federal Indian Day School settlement, acknowledged that the deadline is causing anxiety within some communities but emphasized that a six-month extension to the claims process is included in the settlement agreement.
As of July 13, claimants can submit a form to request an extension. An exceptions committee appointed by the Federal Court of Canada will evaluate each request.
“It should give some confidence that you’re not going to 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] 2½ years beforehand.”
Calls for 1-year extension
But Travis Boissoneau, Lake Huron Regional Deputy Grand Council Chief for the Anishinabek Nation, said the onus shouldn’t be on survivors to fill out further paperwork for an extension.
“The process right now is as hard as it is for claimants,” Boissoneau said. “Adding in fine print, in terms of extending on an individual basis, really just creates more challenges.”
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 pushed back by a year.
The same concerns were echoed last month by First Nation chiefs in New Brunswick, as well as several other regional advocacy groups.
“We have communicated our concerns. Our concerns aren’t being taken seriously,” Boissoneau said.
“Our citizens require time … The government of Canada has a real opportunity here to show some true reconciliation and understanding of the limitations put on literal victims going through this process.”
144,000 claims already submitted
When asked about whether Ottawa would consider an extension, a statement from the federal Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs department outlined the existing submissions process, noting the six-month extension.
“Canada cannot unilaterally amend the claims period deadline,” the statement to CBC News said. “Questions about extending the deadline should be directed to class counsel … who have been chosen by survivors to represent the interests of class members through this process.”
As of May 2, 2022, more than 144,000 claims have 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 affected by their experience at Indian or federal day schools, and those who are triggered by these reports. 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.