Residential school survivors struggle to access education grant

More than a thousand Yukoners qualify for a $3,000 education grant for residential school survivors, but many are having a hard time accessing that money.

More than a thousand Yukoners qualify for a $3,000 education grant for residential school survivors, but many are having a hard time accessing that money.

Anyone who received a common experience payment through Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement is eligible for the grant.

The original application deadline to access the fund was Oct. 31, 2014, but the federal government agreed to extend the program after complaints that survivors were struggling to access the grant.

Less than a third of eligible applicants have applied to the fund, according to CBC News.

Here in the Yukon there are about 1,600 people who qualify for the $3,000 grant, estimated Joanne Henry, executive director with the Committee on Abuse in Residential Schools, or CAIRS.

But Yukoners are finding the application process confusing and complicated, she said.

“It’s very difficult.”

Everyone who applies has to access a custom application form with their name and common experience ID number on it.

A lot of people’s forms, including Henry’s, were sent to out-of-date mailing addresses.

Getting new forms means calling the administrators of the program with the right information, and accessing forms online or waiting for new ones to be sent through the mail.

Once the applicant has the forms, they need a plan to spend the money through an approved organization or learning institution.

The grant will pay for a wide range of educational and cultural activities, and can be accessed by the residential school survivor or a family member.

If you use it for formal education, though, you can only use the money for tuition, educational supplies and related costs.

“It wouldn’t cover your travel, and it wouldn’t cover your accommodation,” said Henry. “It wouldn’t cover your everyday living.”

But there is some flexibility for spending on cultural activities, so long as you can find a First Nation or organization to administer the program.

“If you have a fish camp and you wanted to bring in some elders to do some teaching, you would be able to use the credits towards that,” said Henry.

Many Yukon First Nations and organizations are already approved and set up to administer the grant.

Yukon College had already had more than 500 prospective students and family members contact them with questions about the fund, said Tosh Southwick, director of First Nation initiatives.

“The exciting part and the positive part about it is that it’s bringing people into the college doors who maybe would never have come to college before,” she said.

But survivors are hurt and frustrated by how the program has been administered, said Southwick.

“We’re hearing a lot of survivors in particular who are coming still needing some support. They’re still grieving and they’re still working through that healing process. We’re hearing that this has set them back, sometimes, in that process.

“The forms are really complex to fill out. We’ve had a number of students who have just thrown up there hands and said, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’ We’ve really had to step up and provide support staff, at a cost to the college, to have somebody who can walk them through that process.”

The college is glad to help anyone who needs help filling out the forms or figuring out what to do with the credits, said Southwick. Call 668-8795 for information.

Marney Paradis, executive director of the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, said that only one person has accessed the money through that organization so far.

“In this case the individual and her mother, who attended residential school, got supplies to have a traditional camp. They got themselves the wall tent and some other supplies so they could go onto the land.”

It’s really unfortunate that it’s been so difficult for people to access the funds, she said.

“It’s difficult to swallow, because you can as a family come together and use all the credits to get one of your youth through post secondary. I’ve heard of a family that got $20,000, almost, together for one of their younger family members.”

The friendship centre is happy to help anyone trying to access the money, said Paradis.

“Our door is open.”

The new deadline for applying for the grant will be set by an upcoming court order, according to the website for the Assembly of First Nations.

The new deadline will be two months from the date of that court order, and the money has to be spent by the end of August, 2015.

Staff at CAIRS are available at 667-2247 to help survivors access their forms and apply for the program.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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