Slow response: Residential school students say they’ve been hurt by law firm

APTN National News
Considering all the people who were responsible for overseeing the IAP system, the response to the concerns raised by Kelly Busch and others has been very slow.

The Assembly of First Nations pointed out in the summer of 2010 that there were concerns.

AFN Resolution 6/2010 was passed by consensus by the chiefs-in-assembly on July 21, 2010 at the annual general assembly in Winnipeg.

Moved by Chief Ralph Paul, English River First Nation, SK and seconded by Chief Mike Starr, Star Blanket Cree Nation, SK, it directs AFN staff to do several things with respect to the Indian residential schools settlement agreement:

* to seek a five-year extension to the settlement agreement,

* to have the federal government audit existing Common Experience Payments and Independent Assessment Process (IAP) files,

* to inquire into delays in recognizing schools whose former students are not yet eligible for compensation

*  to look into delays in appeals to the National Administration Committee (NAC),

* to advocate for an Ombudsman to protect the rights of former students,

* to advocate for form fillers and health supports and the eventual transfer to First Nations control,

* to meet with the IAP Oversight Committee and NAC to address issues, and pursue an accountability mechanism regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and national events.

On March 31, Blood Tribe Chief Charles Weasel Head wrote a letter to IAP Chief Adjudicator Daniel Ish. He copied National Chief Shawn Atleo.

“I write to express deep concern over reports we have been receiving that appear to raise questions about the credibility of the Independent Assessment Process,” Weasel Head wrote. “We have received reports from claimants and others who are assisting claimants that IAP files are not being handled appropriately in southern Alberta and other areas. The effect of the possible mishandling of these applications is two-fold. First individual claimants may not be receiving the financial compensation to which they are entitled. Second, claimants, many of whom already suffer from disadvantages, are not being heard in the assessment process and there is thus no real healing for them through the IAP.”

He laid out the details of the allegations he was hearing from survivors and support workers.

“The reports that have come to my attention are in part to the effect that there is at times little preparation work with claimants prior to IAP hearing, that information presented at hearing can be inaccurate or inconsistent with information contained in the written applications, and thus the credibility of claimants is sometimes questioned by adjudicators and claimants’ compensation is not always reflective of their actual experiences,” the chief wrote.

He acknowledged that the “AFN is calling for an audit of IAP files” and called it a “laudable goal.”

But then Chief Weasel Head went on to say that he was concerned about the slow pace of the reaction by the Oversight Committee to his concerns.

“While that committee’s work in ongoing, it is unclear whether the committee has directly addressed the question of whether IAP claimants are receiving fair hearings and proper compensation through those hearings,” he wrote. “However, our concerns are such that that committee is unlikely to be in a position to act with any speed. Our view is that immediate steps need to be taken to protect the interests of claimants before harm is done to them.”

APTN Investigates obtained the national chief’s response to Chief Weasel Head. Dated May 12, Atleo wrote that he “appreciated the concerns regarding the lack of preparation provided to claimants prior to IAP hearings that may impact a fair hearing and settlement.”

“We have been successful in receiving approval for Aboriginal Support Workers whose responsibility it would be to assist IAP claimants and ensure that the IAP fairly and effectively meets the needs of claimants,” he wrote. “We are in the process of developing a work plan to implement this initiative as soon as possible.”

An AFN source told APTN Investigates on June 21 that the AFN was thinking of going public with its concerns about what was happening in Alberta.

“Our Regional Chief for Alberta, George Stanley, may be willing to speak to you. Yesterday, he called our office about issuing a release regarding ‘victimization of survivors by lawyers.’ I’m expecting a draft for review any time,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

But that press release was never sent out.

Charlene Belleau, the head of the AFN’s residential schools unit, was aware of the concerns and was busy trying to get government action, the source added.

“In terms of our person who works on this file, she basically confirms a lot of the concerns you’re raising. The info on AFN advocacy for an Ombudsperson comes from a resolution [passed] last year. She states that ‘INAC believes everything is fine,’ that they considered the idea earlier but feel that the uptake indicates that everything is good. She says that the former students wouldn’t agree.”

Chief Weasel Head was also pushing hard for action. His aunt, who raised him, was Annie Plume. Annie passed away on Nov. 17 after her IAP application was dismissed. Her son Tyrone Weasel Head says the dismissal happened because she was denied a translator during the adjudication hearing. Her first language was Blackfoot.

Before her passing, the chief wanted to have the file reviewed and re-adjudicated. But even a man of his influence was finding it slow going.

Many of the people on the Blood reserve have already passed on their complaints to the Law Society of Alberta. They are hoping that either a Law Society investigation or the investigation ordered by Justice Brown will result in cases that being reviewed and corrected if required.

Online Producer / Ottawa

Before moving to become the APTN News social media producer, Mark was the executive producer for the news in eastern Canada. Before starting with APTN in 2009, Mark worked at CBC Radio and Television in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ottawa.