The Current

Why the former chair of the TRC is worried about the Indian day school settlement

The federal government has offered survivors of Indian day schools a settlement — but is it enough? Sen. Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, explains why he's concerned about the process.

Former students doing 'all the work themselves' to seek compensation, says Sen. Murray Sinclair

Sen. Murray Sinclair says the Indian day school settlement process has gone in 'the complete opposite direction' compared to the residential school case. Indian day school survivors are required to submit written testimony, whereas residential school survivors were able to provide in-person testimony. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

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The former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says he is concerned that Indian day school survivors are doing "all of the work themselves" to seek compensation for the alleged abuse they suffered.

"They have to find the documents; they have to prove they went to the school; they have to match the records that the department provides to the law firm, I assume to justify that they in fact are the same person whose name might be spelled four or five different ways according to school records, and who may not have had an English name," Sen. Murray Sinclair told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"They then have to fill out the forms. And we're talking about a population of people whose literacy rates are the lowest in Canada."

Settlement offer on the table

In March, the federal government announced that eligible Indian day school students will be entitled to receive $10,000 in individual compensation — a settlement reached after students of the former federally run institutions launched a class-action lawsuit alleging they faced abuse and neglect while in the care of the state.

A classroom in a federal Indian day school operated in Kahnawake, Que., between 1868 and 1988. (KORLCC)

A federal court in Winnipeg will decide this week whether to approve the proposed settlement. If the agreement is approved, the court will appoint an administrator who will oversee it and make payments.

No oral testimony

About 200,000 Indigenous children attended federally operated Indian day schools starting in the 1920s, where they experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse similar to that suffered by students at residential schools.

Indian day school students were not included in the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, worth $1.9 billion.

Unlike with the residential school case, claimants won't be able to provide in-person testimony or cross-examination to prevent the re-traumatization of living through their experience. Claimants are required, however, to submit written testimony to an administrator.

Sinclair explains he has hesitations about moving the testimony in "the complete opposite direction."

"During all of this, there are no health supports being provided to the day school survivors while they're going through this process and that really concerns me."

To discuss the proposed Indian day school settlement agreement, and how former students are navigating the process, Tremonti spoke with:

  • Ray Mason, an elder with Peguis First Nation in Manitoba, and one of the people who started the class-action lawsuit.
  • Sandra Bighead, a former Indian day school student in Saskatchewan.
  • Murray Sinclair, a Canadian senator and former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which looked into the abuses Indigenous students suffered at residential schools.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

With files from CBC News. Produced by Julie Crysler, Samira Mohyeddin, Cameron Perrier and Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.