Survivors of Indian day schools may now begin filing claims for compensation following the settlement of a nation-wide class action lawsuit against the Canadian government.
The claims process opened on Jan. 13, with claims to be accepted until July 13, 2022.
Day schools were separate from but similar to Canada’s residential schools — Indigenous children were brought to the facilities to be assimilated into a Euro-centric “Canadian” society.
At least eight day schools operated in the Yukon — double the number of residential schools that operated in the territory.
Anyone who attended one of the nearly 700 federally run-and-operated day schools named on an approved list and suffered harm may submit a claim. Compensation for survivors or their estates ranges from $10,000 for a “Level 1” claim, which covers verbal and basic physical abuse, to $200,000 for the most severe cases.
There are an estimated 120,000 to 140,000 eligible claimants. It’s unclear how many Yukon residents could be among them.
There are eight Yukon day schools on the final approved list: Burwash Landing Day School; Champagne Landing, also known as Champagne Landing Seasonal; Little Salmon, which was later moved to Carmacks; Mayo; Moosehide; Old Crow Village; Ross River; and Teslin Lake.
The first of those schools opened in 1910, with the last one closing in 1963. The majority were affiliated with the Anglican Church, with only the Burwash Landing Day School and later, the Ross River school, Roman Catholic.
Twenty-nine eligible day schools were located in the Northwest Territories, including in Inuvik, while nearly 120 were in British Columbia in places including Telegraph Creek and on the Tahltan reserve.
The list also names a “Lower Post” school under the British Columbia section, but gives its location as Watson Lake. That school, with a Roman Catholic affiliation, operated from 1968 to 1975.
As part of the settlement, signed in March 2019 and approved by the federal court in August, the Canadian government has set aside $1.27 billion for Level 1 payments. It has also agreed to pay up to an additional $1.4 billion for Level 1 claims and all claims under higher levels.
As well, Canada will put $200 million towards “legacy projects,” including community commemoration ceremonies, wellness and healing programs for survivors and their families and Indigenous language and culture restoration projects.
To submit a claim, survivors must fill out a 15-page form on which they must provide their personal information, the name of the day school they attended and the years they attended, and identify and describe what harms or abuses they suffered.
The form is available online at indiandayschools.com, and survivors can submit them by mail, fax or email.
The settlement website lists two phone numbers survivors can call for support. Survivors with questions about the claims process, including filling out the forms, or who want legal support can call 1-888-221-2898. Survivors who want to access mental health counselling or crisis support can call 1-855-242-3310, with counselling available in English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut on request.
Joanne Henry, executive director of Whitehorse-based Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools (CAIRS) Society, said staff will be offering the same help to day school survivors who wish to file claims as they did to residential school survivors during their claims process. (Day school survivors were not included in the residential school settlement reached between class-action plaintiffs and the Canadian government in 2006.)
“We’re here for everything we did for residential school,” she said in an interview Jan. 13.
“We’re doing the exact same thing for day school — support, chats, help (with) filling forms, help (with) looking for information … Whatever CAIRS can do to make this process easier for the person who went to day school, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Henry said she had files for about 30 or 40 day school survivors, but expected many more to get in touch now that the claims process has started.
She also expressed concerns about how accessible the claims process is, and what she said she thinks is a lack of support compared to the residential school claims process.
“When you did your claim through residential school, you had somebody that you could talk to about your abuses, you know? It’s like, you sat down with somebody and they took your notes… You had a support worker who could be there with you while you were writing this down,” Henry explained.
“The day school process? You’re kind of on your own.”
Some elders, Henry pointed out, might not be able to read English or French, the only language the forms are available in. There’s also the trauma of having to recall and go into detail about the abuse suffered.
“It might be a difficult process because I look at (the form) and I’m like, ‘Wow,’” she said. “I mean, I went to residential school and I don’t think I’d want to fill this out on my own … because you’re talking about stuff that happened to you when you were a kid.”
The News contacted seven Yukon First Nations to ask if they’d be providing any special supports for citizens looking to file a claim. None responded by press time.
For the residential school process, the federal government also set up the Resolution Health Support Program, which both survivors and their families could access. The News contacted Indigenous Services Canada to see if a similar program would be set up for day schools; the department did not respond by press time.
Henry encouraged any day school survivors who want help to contact CAIRS by calling 867-667-2247, or by dropping into their office at 4194A Fourth Ave.
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org