Former students of Canada’s Indian residential schools are being reminded that important deadlines are looming for those looking for financial remuneration under the federal Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. Committed to a “fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of Indian residential schools” and a renewed relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will be accepting Independent Assessment Process claims as well as Common Experience Payments claims under exceptional circumstances until September 19, 2012.
Believing it was the government’s responsibility to educate and care for the country’s aboriginal population, Indian residential schools were initiated by the Government of Canada during the 19th century under the guise of aggressive assimilation. The responsibility of the Department of Indian Affairs, these church-run, government funded boarding schools quickly began popping up across the nation and at the peak of their existence in 1931, had ballooned from an initial 69 schools to 130 schools from coast to coast.
Ripped from their homes and separated from their families, communities and culture, an estimated 150,000 Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend the mandatory programming where they were forbidden from speaking their first languages or practicing their native traditions, lived in substandard conditions, and endured physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their teachers, administrators and peers.
In 2007, after years of petitioning for a federal acknowledgement of wrongdoing, a $1.9-billion compensation package was formalized by the Government of Canada. The package provided compensation for all former residential school survivors and, alongside additional funding for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, commemoration and healing initiatives, was followed by an official apology to residential school students by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on June 11, 2008.
Releasing the government and churches from all further liability relating to the residential school experience, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement’s Common Experience Payment (CEP) was made available to all former students still living as of May 30, 2005 and provided $10,000 for students’ first year of school attendance and $3,000 for each year subsequent to that. While the deadline for this leg of the package was reached on September 19, 2011, according to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, in cases of disability, undue hardship and exceptional circumstances, applications will continue to be accepted under the CEP umbrella until September 19th of this year.
Also facing a looming September 19th deadline is the Agreement’s Independent Assessment Process (IAP) which is an out-of-court process to resolve serious claims of abuse at recognized Indian residential schools. Open to all former students, including those who have already received their CEP, the IAP compensation for three categories of claims:
• Sexual and physical assaults, as particularized by the IAP, which were committed by an adult employee or the residential school or by another adult who was lawfully on the premises;
• Sexual or physical assaults, as particularized by the IAP, committed by one student against another at residential school, in which case staff knew or should have known about the abuse; or, in serious sexual abuse cases, where reasonable supervision standards were not in place; and
• Any other wrongful act or acts committed by an adult employee or another adult lawfully on the premises where the abuse caused serious psychological consequences for the claimant, as particularized in the IAP.
“Independent Assessment Process applications will be accepted until September 19, 2012 and the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement states that no applications will be accepted after this date,” relayed Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. “The IAP is the only way a former student may pursue a claim of sexual or serious physical abuse, or other wrongful acts, unless you have opted out of the Settlement Agreement.” Compensation through the IAP will be paid 100 per cent by the Government of Canada following an official hearing of the claim by an independent Adjudicator.
While the hiring of a lawyer is highly recommended, local survivors looking for additional support during their navigation through the IAP process will find it at the Red Lake Indian Friendship Centre. An advocate for former residential schools students, Shelly McKenzie has been a part of the settlement process and will continue to be available for those looking for a hand to hold while they retell their stories of hardship and abuse.
“For the IAP, [former students] need to fill out a form—I prefer that this happens with a lawyer so that they don’t have to go through their story twice,” says McKenzie who notes that she is always willing to sit in on these meetings to offer some much needed support. “Once they speak with a lawyer or a rep from a lawyer’s office, clients will find out if they have a case and from that point, the information is filed and they must wait to hear from them.”
“We are all aware that residential school in itself was horrific however, [the IAP process] goes into details of the abuse,” confirmed McKenzie who recognizes how difficult the IAP process can be for those who survived the residential school process. “We are seeing people who can’t make it through the first meeting—they have to be rescheduled—some are acting out with more binge drinking, etcetera. If someone does have a claim, I would encourage them to call me. We can talk through it, try to recall your story by writing stuff down and as you start to revisit your history, more details will come to you. I have many of the stories. Please do not feel ashamed or embarrassed because I am here to help.”
The IAP guide and application are available online (http://www.iap-pei.ca) or by calling the toll-free Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement hotline (1-866-879-4913). Shelly McKenzie is available for guidance and support by contacting the Red Lake Indian Friendship Centre (807-727-2847).