Indigenous leaders in Manitoba are asking the federal government to extend a deadline for those who attended Federal Day Schools and now want to seek financial compensation, as they said the current deadline did not give people enough time to make their claims.
Federal Indian Day Schools were facilities in Canada where First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were sent during the day, but lived with their parents and remained in their communities, and like residential schools they were places where students often experienced physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, and where attempts were made to strip children of their Indigenous culture and languages.
In 2019, a $1.47 billion agreement was reached that those who attended Day Schools could qualify for compensation ranging from $10,000 to $200,000, based on the abuse they had suffered in Day Schools.
As part of the application process, some seeking higher compensation were asked to disclose details of the abuse they suffered.
That deadline to apply passed on Wednesday, July 13, and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs now says people were not given enough time to apply, and they claim the process was slowed down because of the pandemic, as well as other factors.
“Over the past two years, COVID-19 has created enormous disruptions in the application process for First Nations,” AMC Acting Grand Chief Cornell McLean said in a statement released one day before the deadline landed.
“In addition, limited in-person supports to assist with filling out applications and the lack of connectivity in many of our First Nations have meant significant numbers of First Nation citizens have been unable to apply.
“It is unethical to impose deadlines not set by First Nations.”
AMC acknowledged that the feds have introduced an “extension request process” available for survivors who missed this week’s deadline, but they believe an extension should be given to anyone that still wants to apply, without forcing people to do additional paperwork.
“The Claims Administrator must receive the forms by January 13th, 2023, and all requests are reviewed by the Exceptions Committee,” McLean said.
“It is a burdensome process where extensions will not be automatically granted, and survivors are expected to provide reasons explaining why they have not filed a claim before the imposed deadline. Instead of imposing more bureaucratic hurdles designed to deny our citizens justice, Canada must honour its commitment to finding a meaningful resolution for First Nations.”
The Winnipeg Sun reached out to Indigenous Services Canada for comment, and in an email were directed to a statement that was posted on Twitter by Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller on Thursday, one day after the application deadline had passed.
In the statement, Miller explained the deadline extension application process, but did not commit to any broader extension of the July 13 deadline.
“As part of the settlement, Class Members who were unable to file a claim for the Federal Indian Day School Class Action Settlement can submit an Extension Request Form along with their claim, as of July 14, 2022,” Miller said in the statement.
“Extension requests will be granted on a case-by-case basis after a review by an independent Exceptions Committee. Free legal counsel is also available during this extension period to ensure that claimants have access to the necessary tools and supports.”
Miller claims that the federal government has been listening to and reacting to the requests of Indigenous communities regarding the deadline for application, and the deadline for seeking an extension.
“On this, let me be clear, we’ve heard you,” Miller said “We understand that during the period where Survivors were able to submit claims we have all lived through an unprecedented global pandemic which has required measures that may have affected the ability to submit a claim,” he said in his statement.
“We are also aware that many Day School Survivors have experienced the traumatic effects of findings of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools.
“We recognize that any process that involves revisiting past abuse can be very difficult for Survivors.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun