First Nation leaders in the Maritimes are concerned that correct information about the federal Indian day school class action settlement isn’t reaching former students who are eligible to apply for compensation.
Ruth Levi, a band councillor with the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, says the law firm in charge of processing claim applications needs to make individual visits to First Nation communities in Atlantic Canada to explain the process to community members eligible for compensation.
“We need them to come into the community. We don’t need any more secondhand news,” Councillor Levi said in a recent interview.
Councillor Levi said people in her home community are under the false impression they’ll receive compensation in December. However, the actual date former students can submit and process their application for compensation is tentatively set for Dec. 19.
“They have a right to know exactly what is going on. They also have the right to some assistance on how to fill out the forms,” she said.
Darlene Bernard, Chief of the Lennox Island First Nation in Prince Edward Island, echoed the same concerns Levi has regarding assistance in filling out applications.
“Is there going to be any kind of resources to help the First Nations to be able to get the applications and that kind of stuff done,” Chief Bernard said.
Federal court judge approved settlement agreement on Aug. 19
On Aug. 19, a federal court judge approved a national class action settlement to compensate thousands of former students who attended federally-run Indian day schools.
The settlement includes compensation ranging from $10,000 up to $200,000 based on the level of abuse former students experienced while attending Indian day schools. The settlement also calls for the creation of a $200-million legacy fund to support commemoration projects, health and wellness projects, and language and cultural initiatives.
There were a total of 27 federal Indian days schools in Atlantic Canada. All of the day schools in the region were run by the Roman Catholic Church on behalf of the federal government.
The class action settlement is being administered by the Ottawa-based law firm, Gowling WLG. Two of the firm’s lawyers, Jeremy Bouchard and Robert Winogram, have been meeting with First Nation leaders across the country to explain the details of the settlement agreement.
Both lawyers recently met with First Nation leaders during the Atlantic Policy Congress’s All Chiefs and Councils Assembly in Dartmouth, N.S.
According to Bouchard, the settlement is currently in a 60-day appeals period until Oct. 19 in which either party of the class action can appeal the federal court judge’s decision. At the same time, there’s also a 90-day period in which the former students can opt out of the settlement agreement. That 90-day opt-out period is up on Nov. 19.
“After both of those periods pass, there’s a final 30-day implementation period. So that puts us to Dec. 19,” Bouchard explained.
“In total, it puts us at 120 days out after the approval order. Once we get there, the claims administrator will begin procession claims forms,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bouchard said his law firm has uploaded a claims form in draft form so former students can review the draft application and gather supporting documents. The final claims form will be available online once the 120-day waiting period is up on Dec. 19.
“I’m going to hold them to their word.” – Ruth Levi
Councillor Levi said she has extended an invitation to the law firm to visit Elsipogtog First Nation to help band members fill out the application forms.
“They said they’re going to be here at the end of October, first of November and I’m going to hold them to their word,” she said.
Chief Bernard said First Nation communities also need financial resources to hire support staff to provide emotional assistance to band members filling out the forms.
“Once people start talking about these things, they can be re-traumatized all over again,” Chief Bernard said.
“I feel strongly that like, within our communities, we have the capacity within our communities to do that work but we don’t have the financial resources,” she said.
Bouchard explained that as class counsel, Gowling WLG law firm is obligated to assist all former students through the application process.
“We are working with on-the-ground resources to ensure that by the time the claims process opens up, there is support, both legal support to go through the claims process and support for individuals who’ve been traumatized have access to mental health or any type of support to submit a claim and go through this process,” Bouchard said.
In terms of additional funding for First Nation communities to hire their own support staff, Bouchard said his firm has flagged this with the federal government.
“We have raised this with the government so there have been some discussions on this. The claims process hasn’t opened up yet so we do have some time to try to ensure that we have something in place,” Bouchard said.
“But we’re also encouraging on-the-ground networks and leadership to raise this issue as well.”