N.B. First Nations chiefs demand one-year extension on Indian day school claims : The Canadian News

New Brunswick First Nations chiefs are demanding a one-year extension for Indian day school settlement claims so survivors can be supported through the process, which has been difficult during the pandemic.

George Ginnish, chief of the Natoaganeg First Nation, about 120 kilometers northwest of Moncton, said the current process is traumatizing for survivors.

“If the government of Canada was sincere and serious about reconciliation, they would do it,” Ginnish said.

“They wouldn’t let time run out.”

Ginnish and 14 other New Brunswick chiefs issued a statement this week calling on Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller to extend the deadline for applications for day school agreements until July 2023.

Indian or federal day schools were federally run institutions that attempted to rid Indian children of their language and culture, with some children suffering sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

In 2019, a class action lawsuit was settled and survivors were able to file claims for compensation beginning in January 2020. Compensation is based on a tiered system for damages suffered, from level one to level five, ranging from $10,000 to $200,000. Survivors claiming levels two through five must draft a statement disclosing the details of the abuse suffered.

Ginnish said writing such disclosures is traumatizing for members of her community.

“They’re really re-traumatizing our elders, and if that continues, so will the intergenerational trauma,” Ginnish said.

A spokesperson for the group’s lawyer, Gowling WLG, wrote in an email to The Canadian News that if someone is unable to file a claim by the July 13, 2022 deadline “due to the unique impacts of the pandemic, or other extraordinary circumstance,” they can request a six-month extension.

“That said, with just over two months remaining before the deadline, we strongly encourage applicants to initiate the claims process before they rely on the exceptions committee to grant them a six-month extension,” the spokesperson wrote.

The group’s lawyers offer free assistance to claimants.

On their own during the pandemic

A spokesperson for Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada referred questions about the deadline extension to the group’s lawyers.

In an e-mailed statement, they said Canada recognizes that reviewing past abuses can be difficult for survivors and that people in need of immediate assistance can contact the Hope for Wellness Helplineand that the First Nations and Inuit uninsured health benefits program provides coverage for mental health counseling.

They added that the agreement included $200 million for the McLean Day School Liquidation Corp. to support memorial projects, health and wellness programs, truth-telling events, and the restoration and preservation of indigenous languages and culture.

Ginnish said that survivors were promised legal, technical, and mental wellness support to cope with the trauma while applying for assistance but instead many survivors found they had to apply on their own because of the pandemic. Some found the disclosure process too daunting, so they settled for level one compensation.

Ginnish asks that cases where survivors applied for and received compensation, but submitted it without adequate support, be reevaluated. He would also like to see any survivor who lost their indigenous language automatically receive $100,000, because it is still a struggle to revitalize the language.

“They have to show us they are serious about this,” 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 is working with survivors of the day school in her community who are applying to have their records re-evaluated. Levi-Peters said the application process was confusing for many.

“The process was more detrimental than beneficial,” Levi-Peters said.

Elsipogtog’s former boss, Susan Levi-Peters, is a survivor of the day school and is working with other survivors to seek reconsideration of her compensation. (Mike Heenan/CBC)

Survivors need more time to write their disclosures, he said, adding that he has seen people who have had to take breaks in order to do so.

He also said that having access to legal counsel was helpful, and he brought in a lawyer to help people requesting reconsideration. He said that helped alleviate the stress felt by survivors.

“I think all communities need to revisit their members’ requests,” Levi-Peters said.

She would like the extension to be indefinite. Some abuse became normalized among survivors, she said, and only once survivors learned that what was happening to them was wrong did they understand it as abuse.

Levi-Peters hopes indigenous communities will have time to heal.

“It didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight,” he said.


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