Indian day school compensation deadline approaching

“Another day of study begins at Tayendinaga [sic] Central School as Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Claus prepare some of their fellow Mohawks for the future,” according to the information listed on this photo. Photo from the Library and Archives Canada.

Former “Indian day school” students have until Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, at midnight to apply for compensation from the federal government.

On Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, the Mohawks of the Bay Of Quinte (Kenhtè:ke Kanyen’kehá:ka) released a statement reminding all eligible former Indian day school students that the final deadline to apply for compensation under the Indian Day School Class Action settlement is fast approaching.

“Indian day schools” were schools established, funded, and operated by the federal Department of Indian Affairs. Beginning in the 1920s, close to 200,000 Indigenous children were forced by law under the Indian Act to attend federally-operated Indian day schools across Canada. Those who attended Indian day schools were never compensated for the abuses they suffered, as they were excluded from the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. 

The Eastern day school at Tyendinaga operated from 1882 to 1969. Photo from the Sharon John Collection, part of the Kanhiote Library Digital Collection.

Unlike Indian residential schools, students did not reside at Indian day schools; they attended during the day and went home at night. But in most cases, Indian day schools were operated and maintained by the same religious organizations that administered the residential schools. This included Roman Catholic, Church of England, Methodist, and Presbyterian denominations.

In Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, west of Napanee, there were five Indian day schools run by the Anglican Church. The first four opened in the early 1880s and operated until the late 1960s.  A large central school, Quinte Mohawk, was opened in 1960 and operated as a day school right up to 1997. It is still in operation as a federally run school. 

Callie Hill, Executive Director of Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Language and Cultural Centre in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory was herself a student of Indian day schools. Now age 60, she started school at four years old, attending four of the five different smaller schools throughout her primary and junior years, and beginning her intermediate division work at Quinte Mohawk.

Hill acknowledged that applying for the class action settlement is a deeply personal decision for each individual survivor. “I struggled with it myself, whether I was going to apply or not. When you think of what’s lost… $10,000, it’s not a lot of money relatively speaking [compared] to what was taken from me, right?”

What was taken, in her case, was her Mohawk language.

At home when she was growing up, Hill said, “My parents didn’t speak Mohawk. As I grew up, my maternal grandfather did not speak it anymore; he spoke Mohawk at home until he went to school, and then he was punished for it [at school], so he didn’t pass that on to his children. So then my paternal grandfather attended the ‘Mush Hole’ (Mohawk Institute) residential school in Brantford… that’s kind of the beginning of language loss in my family, personally.” 

Hill said that in first and second grade she had two non-Indigenous teachers. In grade three she had her first Indigenous teacher, who happened to be the wife of Chief Earl Hill. 

The chief’s wife taught the children Indigenous social dances, Hill said. “We learned them from cassette tapes that she had recorded somewhere of people singing our traditional social songs. And we formed, I guess, what was the very first dance troupe from the community. [We would] go out to different places, and she had all these outfits made that had buckskin and beads, and we would perform the dances. It was meant to be educational but it was also partially ‘for show,’ right?” 

Hill went on, “So when I think back to my own journey [where my interest in our language came from]… that’s my key thought: that she planted seeds at that early time. And even though it was a day school, she was my first Indigenous teacher. And so that was a good experience.”

In fact, that little seed grew into a lifelong pursuit of knowledge and a need to share with others. Hill is as mentioned the Executive Director / Ohén:ton Í:yete of Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:an, a Culture and Language Centre with education for all levels including Kawenna’on:we, an independent Primary School (SK-Gr 4). And Hill takes some delight in the fact that the school, which focuses on the Mohawk language and original ways of being in the world, operates out of her old day school building.

Kawenna’on:we Primary School today. Photo submitted.

Hill said she wasn’t treated badly at day school, but she could recall other students who were, and admitted that that too was traumatic to have witnessed. 

While she said she did struggle with whether to apply for compensation, “What I thought was my grandson now attends our school. And he’s learning our language. He’s having the education that I wished I could have had when I was eight years old. And so I did it for him. I’m setting that money aside for his future educational needs.”

She reiterated, “It’s a personal decision for anybody to make… like, ‘Is it really worth it for me to go through all this?’ But… this could be very healing for people… to start a healing journey by [talking] about it.”

The first Canada-wide, court-certified class action seeking compensation for Indian day school students and their families, McLean v Canada, was started by Garry McLean, who died in 2019 before a settlement was reached.  

The class action suit sought to recover compensation for class members from Canada for the harm suffered by students who attended a federal Indian day school or Federal Day School. 

Those students have reported suffering physical, sexual, and psychological abuse by teaching staff, officials, students, and others. In some cases, the abuse was severe. These abuses were in addition to the mocking, denigration, and humiliation of students because of their Indigenous culture and language. 

Through McLean v Canada, the plaintiffs sought the recognition of and justice for the harms inflicted on former students of day schools and their family members.

On March 12, 2019, the then-Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett, announced that a settlement agreement between Canada and class counsel was signed. The proposed settlement included everyone who attended a federal Indian day school. 

Eligible class members will receive a payment reflecting the most severe harm they suffered while attending an Indian day school, irrespective of the number of schools attended. The settlement provides $10,000 in individual compensation for thousands of Indigenous people who suffered harm by attending federally operated Indian day schools, with further compensation for those who suffered physical and sexual abuse. Amounts range from $50,000 to $200,000 depending on the severity of the abuses suffered.

In addition, the Indian day schools system inflicted systemic harm and damage upon Indigenous cultures and languages. Thus, the settlement also includes a $200M legacy fund to support commemoration projects, health and wellness programs, and language and culture initiatives for communities. 

Image courtesy of indiandayschools.com.

Class members can now apply for an extension until January 13, 2023, by submitting an Extension Request Form. It is recommended that applicants submit their Claim Form together with their Extension Request Form, but Class Members may seek an extension prior to submitting their Claim Form. Find out if you are eligible for compensation and how you can submit a claim

According to the Class Action’s official website, this may be an important step in individuals’ healing journey; however, talking or thinking about painful past experiences can trigger difficult thoughts or feelings. It can help to talk to a trusted person, such as a friend, family member, or elder.

The toll-free Hope for Wellness Help Line is also available at 1-855-242-3310, as is the online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!