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Timing perfect of Indian Day Schools compensation, Dené chief says

The Dene Nation Education Summit has been postponed out of concern of the risks of COVID-19, said Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakeleya. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

The timing of the compensation claims process for survivors of Indian Day Schools is perfect, said Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakeleya at a press conference on Jan. 14.

“This is the perfect time because we have a lot of hope within the Dene people that the set of the sail is perfect. We have a lot of young people who are now thinking about education, who are speaking out about the contamination of our waters, who are speaking up about who Dene are and what our future is. The will of survival is so strong amongst us. We're coming full circle to who we are as Dene.”

Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakeleya discussed details of the Indian Day Schools compensation process at a press conference on Jan. 14. Blair McBride/NNSL photo

Yakeleya believes there are 10,000 to 15,000 former students in the Northwest Territories.

The Indian Day School Settlement Claims Process under the management of Toronto-based law firm Gowling WLG began accepting applications on Jan. 13 and former students might be eligible for compensation ranging between $10,000 and $200,000.

Thousands of Indigenous students across Canada attended the schools and many suffered abuses. The first school opened in 1863 in Ontario and the last one closed in 2000, in Quebec, according to Gowling's list of federal Indian Day Schools. Indigenous students were required to attend the schools starting in 1920.

Students who attended any of those schools are eligible for compensation. Day school survivors weren't covered by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of 2006.

Yakeleya's predecessor, the late Dene Nation Chief Garry McLean was the lead plaintiff in the Day Schools court case in 2009.

“We have to honour him on behalf of all the 140,000 federal day school students. Over 700 schools that were affected in Canada. About 28-30 schools in the Northwest Territories,” Yakeleya said.

Exact numbers of former students in the territory weren't yet known, but the chief believes there could be many thousands.

“There might be 500 applicants just in Fort Providence, as Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge [of the Deh Gah Got'ie First Nation]  told me. I'm not even talking about Deline, Colville (Lake), I don't even know what Yellowknife looks like! There could be maybe 10,000 or 15,000 former students in the NWT.”

Compensation will be assessed based on a level system measuring abuses suffered. Level 1 represents verbal or physical abuse and victims are eligible to receive $10,000 in compensation. Levels 2-5 represent repeated and increasingly severe incidents of physical and sexual abuse that left long-term or permanent harm, and victims of Level 5 abuse could receive $200,000.

The settlement with the federal government includes a $200 million legacy fund that will support commemoration projects, health and wellness programs and initiatives for restoring Indigenous languages and culture.

“We want to ensure that people who suffered abuse at those schools are helped,” Yakeleya said.

“We're asking for support systems but a lot of people also want to see their own healers in their own communities, like medicine people. We're telling Health Canada that not everyone wants to see a psychologist for a therapist. We have our own psychologists and therapists but they're not recognized by Health Canada. We need to crack that door open.”

Applicants have until July 2022 to apply for compensation and claims will be processed beginning on May 12, 2020.