'Confused' survivors want answers on federal day school settlement process: Dene chief

The chief of the N.W.T Dene Nation wants an independent review into the federal day school settlement distribution process. The process can take up to a year, says claims administrator.

Fort Resolution man waiting 7 months says he wants closure soon to heal

A federal day school in Kahnawake between 1868 and 1988. The N.W.T. Dene Nation wants an independent review of the day school settlement process to better understand how the claims are getting to survivors. (KORLCC)

Wilfred Beaulieu is still traumatized by the countless physical, mental and emotional abuse he suffered during his four years at Peter Pond — a federal day school in Fort Resolution, N.W.T.

The federal day school settlement process brought all of that trauma back to the surface, Beaulieu said. 

Federal day schools operated from the 1860s till the 1990s. Like residential schools, day schools aimed to assimilate Indigenous children while eradicating Indigenous languages and cultures. Former day school students can apply for a range of compensation up to $200,000 under a nationwide class action lawsuit. 

"I suffer from PTSD already as it is, and this is adding on to it," Beaulieu told CBC. 

Beaulieu submitted his paperwork to Deloitte — the firm involved in processing the settlements — on Jan. 15, two days after applications first opened up. 

Now, seven months later, he says Deloitte is putting a hold on his application because they need more information to process it — but he says they will not tell him what else he needs to submit.

He wants to receive his settlement as soon as possible so he can start healing. 

"[The settlement] would help give me closure on my side for sure," Beaulieu said, noting the federal government has acknowledged its wrongs. "They've already admitted wrongdoing ... and it caused me damage at a young age." 

You have four people in one house, with separate rooms, and they're not talking to each other.- Norman Yakeleya, chief of N.W.T. Dene Nation

Norman Yakeleya, the chief of the N.W.T Dene Nation, wants an independent review into the federal day school settlement distribution process. 

Yakeleya, who is also the territory's regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, told CBC he will present a motion to the body's executive council next month to bring all four parties involved with the settlement together: Gowling WLG which acts as the class counsel, Deloitte which is the claims administrator, the federal government and the Assembly of First Nations. 

"It's time now for them to come back to the room ... and review the process entirely," Yakeleya said.

The move comes a few weeks after a former N.W.T Métis president spoke publicly about how the form could be misleading survivors into settling for less money than they deserve. 

'They're not talking to each other'

The application form is divided into five possible levels of compensation. Level 1 gives survivors $10,000 with little proof required. Levels 2 to 5, on the other hand, need more documents including family testimonies, medical records and photographs in order to prove a survivor's level of abuse. If they do not have these documents, survivors can fill out a sworn declaration that proves their testimony is accurate. 

Survivors have the option of working with free Gowling WLG lawyers to fill out their claim form. Deloitte receives every filed claim and sends out the cheques to survivors who have applied for the lowest level of compensation. For claimants who fill out Levels 2 to 5, Deloitte enters their claims into the system, which could take up to six weeks.

Then, the Level 2 to 5 claims are passed to the federal government. The government has up to 60 days for Level 2 to 3 claims and up to 90 days for Level 4 to 5 claims to decide whether a claimant is eligible or not for the settlement. Claims are then sent back to Deloitte, which conducts a more thorough case review. 

The review process for Level 2-5 claims can take up to a year, Deloitte's website reads

Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya says he wants to find out why it's taking a long time for survivors to receive their claims. (Sidney Cohen/CBC News)

    As of June 30 — about six months into accepting claims — Deloitte settled 14,180 claims out of 56,931 claims received. There are more than 42,000 claims still in progress. 

    Yakeleya says all of these bodies work independently, leaving survivors at a loss for how to find out more information about the status of their claim. 

    "[It's like] you have four people in one house with separate rooms, and they're not talking to each other," Yakeleya said. 

    Survivors also do not understand how or why some receive their claim sooner than others, Yakeleya said. He heard a case where one sibling received their claim, and the other has not — even though they filed their claims on the same day.

    This adds to the overall confusion of how these claims are being given out, he continued. 

    I suffer from PTSD already as it is, and this is adding on to it.- Wilfred Beaulieu, federal day school survivor 

    "People are complaining that this is a basic form, and they're not hearing back from the administrator, so they're confused," Yakeleya said. 

    Gowling WLG said in a statement that class counsel could not speculate about their involvement in a third-party investigation, but specified that claimants can bring questions or concerns directly to them or to the federal government. They also said they have ongoing conversations with the Assembly of First Nations about the claims process. 

    The federal department of Crown-Indigenous Relations told CBC in a statement that its role is to provide documents to Deloitte to prove that a level 2-5 claimant attended federal day school. It said the settlement process was negotiated on behalf of survivors and approved by the federal court, which continues to oversee the process. 

    "The mistreatment of Indigenous children is a tragic and shameful part of Canada's history," the statement reads. "Working together to bring a meaningful resolution to its painful legacy is an important step in the journey of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples."

    Survivors with concerns about the settlement process, including any concerns from the Dene Nation, should contact Deloitte, it said. 

      Beaulieu, who applied for the federal day school settlement, says he doesn't remember which level of compensation he applied for, but that it was between Levels 2 to 5, so it would require more time than the Level 1 claims. 

      Deloitte says it 'cares immensely'

      In a statement, Deloitte said it can't comment on individual cases for privacy reasons, noting that there are many reasons why a claim could be put on hold. Survivors will receive a formal letter with a list of documents if more information is needed, said Deloitte.

      We understand the angst and concern of survivors.- Deloitte statement

      The claims administrator reassured survivors that they "care immensely" about getting compensations processed as quickly as possible. 

      "We understand the angst and concern of survivors," the statement reads. "We are working diligently to ensure a smooth, efficient and fair process for survivors." 

      Deloitte asks survivors to double check their forms before submitting to make sure all the necessary documents are there. Otherwise, they could face a delay in getting their payments. 

      Claims are not due until July 13, 2022.