‘Indian boarding home’ survivors in the North eligible to receive thousands of dollars in compensation

Indigenous northerners who were housed in private boarding homes to attend public schools in the latter half of the 20th century could soon be eligible to receive thousands of dollars in compensation.

The Canadian government and lawyers for survivors reached an agreement-in-principle last month to settle a multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuit over the operation of boarding homes for Indigenous students attending public schools between 1951 and 1992.

David Klein is a managing partner with Klein Lawyers, the Toronto-based counsel handling the class action. In an interview with CBC News, he said many of those children experienced abuse and a loss of identity.

“The children were not only displaced from their families, they were displaced from their community, their language and their culture,” he said.

The federally-run program saw an estimated 40,000 Indigenous youth placed in non-Indigenous boarding homes across Canada, including in the North.

That number comes from thousands of archival documents provided to the class action’s legal team by Canada as part of litigation.

In the N.W.T. (which also included Nunavut at the time), Klein said one document from 1961 shows around 70 children were placed in boarding homes that year. Most were from Hay River, with several others from Fort Good Hope and Tulita, among other communities.

A Catholic school in Yellowknife, shown in this postcard printed circa 1961. Around 70 Indigenous children in the N.W.T. that year were sent to live in boarding homes while attending public schools. (NWT Archives/Bern Will Brown fonds/N-2001-002: 00304)

Indigenous children in the Yukon were also part of the program. Klein was unable to provide hard numbers by publication deadline, but said based on “limited information,” the number is probably higher than that for the N.W.T.

Payouts – up to $210,000 per person – to start as early as 2024

According to the agreement-in-principle, there will be no cap on compensation in the final deal. This means every class member who applies and is approved will receive payment.

Claimants will receive a baseline payment of $10,000 if they were placed in a boarding home. They will then be eligible for anywhere between $10,000 and $200,000 in additional payments, depending on the severity of any abuse experienced.

“Based on the number of class members and where we believe they will place within the compensation grid, we expect the total compensation to be approximately $2.2 billion,” Klein said.

The legal team still has to finalize the settlement agreement. Once complete, they will reach out to class members to share their views on the terms.

Members will also be welcome to attend the subsequent court approval hearing, either in-person or virtually.

“If everything goes according to plan, we hope to have the claims centre opened before the end of this year, with compensation flowing to class members sometime in 2024,” Klein said.

Anyone who believes they qualify as a class member can contact Klein Lawyers for more information through an online form.

A report by Meaghan Brakenbury

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Final Truth & Reconciliation report released in Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Finland:  Sámi politician calls Finland “racist country”, Yle News

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