Expect more residential school claims, say observers
The government expects roughly 29,000 former residential school students to apply for their alternative resolution process, which will hear claims of abuse outside a courtroom setting.
But community leaders predict the number of applicants looking for compensation will be much higher.
Former students have 292 days left to apply for the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), which could provide compensation to students who experienced physical or sexual abuse at Indian Residential Schools.
But some who work with former students are concerned that the government is not prepared for a much higher demand, referencing their experiences at the community level.
Joe Pintarics, project supervisor at the Healing Drum Society, said the government's estimate is low.
His Yellowknife-based organization runs a trauma recovery program with a seven-person staff, and Pintarics said the number of clients has been consistently high.
"It's been a steady flow," he said. "I've been here four years now. We've had the same level. It's been a very high level."
While there is an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.
Pintarics said as more people talk about their experiences, more come forward looking for help.
He said there is no sense of the depth of damage caused by residential schools.
"We need treatment facilities that are highly specialized," he said, adding that help should be "available for this generation, the next generation, and probably for the next after that."
He also worries about the former students and families he deals with now because the Healing Drum funding is expected to end four years from now.
Total number of former students estimated at 150K
The number of former residential school students is considerable.
Initially, about 1,100 students attended 69 schools across the country. In 1931, at the peak of the residential school system, there were about 80 schools operating in Canada.
A total of about 130 schools operated across Canada — excluding Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick — from the earliest in the 19th century to the last, which closed in 1996.
All in all, about 150,000 aboriginal, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools.
"While there is an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist," states the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus agrees that government is underestimating the number of former students that will come forward.
The Dene Nation holds its own conferences and workshops on residential schools. Erasmus said everyone who has been to residential school has been hurt and should be compensated.
"There are people that can no longer hold a job. They can no longer hold a full-time job because of what occurred to them when they were children," said Erasmus.