Louise Mayo anticipates busy days ahead as the end of the week approaches, closing the extension period for claims to a national class action settlement for First Nations and Inuit children who suffered harm while attending federally-run Indian day schools.
Mayo, a project co-ordinator hired to assist claimants in the Kanien'kehá:ka community of Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal, said she is worried some people may fall through the cracks by missing the deadline.
"I'm getting a lot of phone calls today," she said, noting that she assisted a handful of community members with their claims and narratives over the weekend.
While separate from the residential school system, federal Indian day schools and federal day schools were also part of a policy aimed at assimilating Indigenous children, and often had religious affiliations.
In 2019, Canada signed a $1.47-billion settlement with thousands of former students at the 600-plus schools that operated across Canada between 1863 and 2000. Compensation is on a tiered system for harms suffered, from level one to level five, ranging from $10,000 to $200,000.
The claims process opened in January 2020 and the deadline to submit a claim was July 13, 2022. However, claimants are able to apply for an extension until Jan. 13, 2023, at 11:59 PST.
According to Deloitte, the claims administrator, 178,161 claims have been filed as of Jan. 3, including 1,076 received during the extension period. Approximately 70 per cent of the claims have been paid, while 26,044 are currently being processed and 25,374 claims are missing information. A total of 2,700 were deemed ineligible for the settlement.
Class counsel said they've been busy assisting claimants as the deadline approaches and were unavailable to speak with CBC News. However, lead counsel Cam Cameron said in an emailed statement that survivors or estates who are waiting to receive supporting documents should not delay in submitting an extension request form and claim form.
Deloitte will treat missing supporting documents, such as estate documents, ID, or school records, as missing information and will follow up with claimants after the deadline, provided the extension request form and claim form were received by Jan. 13.
Calls for extended deadline
Last month, Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario filed a motion to the courts, asking to extend the deadline to 2025.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, is calling for the removal of the deadline. In a statement issued Wednesday, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said the organization opposes the deadline and wants compensation to remain open for years to come.
"There are thousands of survivors who are still coming to terms with their past schooling experience and will miss out, for reasons that are not their fault," said Cameron.
"Physical, sexual and emotional abuse is something people may oppress and need time to process when making their application."
The deadline also troubles Veronica Haddon, manager of the Indian Day School co-ordinators at the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) in B.C.
"When we're sitting with people who are sharing their narrative and we're having to ask probing questions. it's so sensitive," she said.
"To rush a process that is so sensitive I think is unjust and emotional for survivors."
Staff at the IRSSS have also been busy fielding calls from survivors to meet Friday's deadline. Day school co-ordinators and cultural support workers will be available virtually by Zoom on Friday until 8 p.m. PST.
"There's a lot of big feelings with the pressure of finishing," said Haddon.
"There's just so many different layers of hurt and disappointment and having to relive their trauma every time they're looking for support or being told they're not eligible for something."
Haddon said staff receive calls daily from claimants wanting to appeal the decision made by the claims administrator regarding the level of harm suffered.
That's something that concerns Mayo, too. Ten schools operated in Kahnawà:ke between 1920 and 1988, with an estimated roughly 5,000 eligible claimants. According to Mayo, a total of 4,552 survivors submitted claims, however, she has concerns that many who filed on their own didn't receive the compensation they deserved.
"In Kahnawà:ke alone, there's at least a thousand people that should have never signed a level one. They should have waited and then met with somebody and had somebody help them write their narrative," she said.
"I knew that was happening around town with larger family members saying 'Just sign it. You'll get $10,000 quicker than if you wait a year.'"
Mayo said her mandate is to take time with communities to create a safe environment in order to provide a complete narrative.
"Sometimes it takes two or three or four visits before I can get all the information out of them in a very safe way," she said.
"It's so critical to support the client to make sure they feel safe to share their story …. In many cases, a lot of these individuals who come to see me have never told their parents, their siblings, their wife, boyfriend, husband that they've been sexually abused."
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at federal Indian day schools 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.