Six Nations in court to challenge timeline for Indian Day School class action claims

Six Nations and Indian Day School (IDS) survivor Audrey Hill moved forward with legal action against the Government of Canada last week to extend what they say are unrealistic claims deadline for IDS class action.

Hearings began in court last week, on Mar. 2 to extend the application deadline for another two years.

Six Nations and Hill are calling on the federal government to extend the time for Indian Day School survivors to get compensation for the abuse and trauma they suffered.

“We are disappointed to be forced to take these steps by the Federal Liberal Government to seek justice for IDS survivors, who have suffered long-lasting trauma as a result of the abuse they faced at these schools,” said Six Nations Elected Chief Mark Hill. “We cannot be silent as members of our communities are left uncompensated for the wrongs committed against them by Canada. IDS survivors must have a fair and meaningful opportunity to make a claim—that is what reconciliation requires.”

The case kicked off with conference last week to deal with procedural matters in the lawsuit, which aims to compensate survivors of systemic abuse at government-run schools for Indigenous children.

Six Nations and Hill have filed statements that set out how the process for IDS survivors seek compensation, which ended on Jan. 13, 2023, saying the process was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They believe a significant number of survivors have not been able to make a claim before the deadline due to the lack of culturally sensitive supports and an “unfairly short timeline,” SNGR noted in a press release. “To give class members a true opportunity to seek compensation, Six Nations and Hill argue the deadline should be extended to Dec. 31, 2025.”

The federal government has not yet filed materials responding to Six Nations and Hill’s legal action.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit almost immediately after the IDS claims process opened in January 2020.

SNGR said the schools had a massive impact on Indigenous communities like Six Nations.

Information and assistance regarding the claims process were largely provided online, but about two-thirds of households in Indigenous communities do not have access to

high-speed internet.

Six Nations and Hill also identify several other barriers facing IDS survivors, such as the lack of culturally sensitive and trauma-informed supports.

“People who saw abuse at the day schools need to have support and time in order to engage with their memories and disclose the things that happened to them,” said Hill. “There was a 1-800 number for support and assistance but that is not a meaningful support for our people, many of whom went through unspeakable things. You can’t rush the process. There are people out there who are eligible for a claim but haven’t made one because they are not ready to talk about what happened to them.”

To date, no extension to the claims process has been granted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite Canada’s agreement to extensions in other class action settlements such as the First Nations drinking water class action.

“Indigenous leaders have been raising concerns and calling for an extension for over a year, but the Federal Liberal Government has not addressed our concerns at all,” said Chief Hill. “The government needs to move quickly to extend the claims process. It is long past time for mere acknowledgments and empty words about reconciliation. We need a systemic solution so no survivors are left out.”

Through the courts, Six Nations and Hill are seeking an extension of the claims deadline to Dec. 31, 2025. The same class action settlement is also being challenged in another proceeding before the Federal Court of Appeal, where survivors are seeking a declaration that they may amend claims that have already been made to be more fully compensated for their harms.

Generations of Indigenous children suffered systemic emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at Indian Day Schools (IDS) operated and controlled by the Government of Canada for over a century.

IDS survivors launched a class action lawsuit against the federal government. In 2019, a settlement agreement was established to compensate class members (Agreement).The Agreement arbitrarily set the claims period at two and a half years, compared to five for the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, which affected approximately half as many class members.

The Agreement specifically called for cultural sensitivity to minimize the risk that class members would be retraumatized when claiming compensation. This did not happen. Class members did not receive adequate notice and assistance to complete their claims, and the claims period was too short for a trauma-based case, particularly in light of the pandemic.

The court challenge was launched on Dec. 20, 2022.

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