Residential school survivors who were recipients of settlement monies are now eligible to access the final portion of their compensation in the form of education credits, which are not only for individuals pursuing post-secondary studies, but also communities looking to build programs around language and culture.
Recipients of the Common Experience Payment (CEP) issued under the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement may access credits of up to $3,000 each as a way to “try to regain what was taken away during residential schools,” according to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
“This is a result of the surplus from the original settlement agreement, and at the time that the agreement was negotiated, they determined that if there were a surplus in the funds they would allocate it towards personal education credits. So we’re at that phase now where the education credits are kicking in,” said Shannon Monk Payne, AFN’s personal credits liaison for the Yukon, NWT and Alberta region.
“Under the terms and conditions, language and culture is an option for communities who want to pool their credits, and the whole philosophy behind it is so much of the language and culture was taken away, so here’s an opportunity to bring it back to the community, or to enhance and celebrate the positives and the wonderful aspects of language and culture,” she said.
Credits can be pooled by communities
For those wanting to use the credits for personal, formal education, the program recognizes universities, technical institutes, K-12 schools, early childhood education centres and access/essential skills courses, and can be used for tuition, books and other course expenses.
Those who wish to pool their credits with others in the community can also put the funding to good use by coordinating a project plan that can be used to promote language and culture, whether that be creating new programming or providing those funds to existing organizations (including First Nations governments) or projects.
Those projects can include culture camps, healing programs, on-the-land activities, ceremonies, traditional food and medicine harvesting or arts, among others.
“Some people are pooling their credits together as a family and looking to do some camping and on-the-land activities; some people are pooling their credits through the school, because that’s another option for accessing the credits – enhancing the language and culture activities that are already in existence; some communities are talking about starting up new language programs. It really varies and it’s really up to the individual community to determine what they want for their healing,” Payne said. “People are accessing in the way that makes sense for them.”
To be eligible for credits, programs must be used to address the harms resulting from residential schools, including intergenerational trauma, and can include such elements as language restoration, traditional knowledge, personal development, capacity building for communities or address the needs of special groups, like youth, women and elders.
Deadlines approaching fast
Payne, who was in Fort Smith last week to provide information on the credits to people attending the Dene National Assembly, said the deadline to use the credits is quickly approaching and encourages communities to begin planning soon if they hope to create a group education plan.
“One of the challenges that we’re finding is the timeframes are very, very tight,” Payne said. “So in order to access the credits for formal education, it really requires that people are either in school right now or about to start school either for September or for January.”
The deadline for individuals to submit their Acknowledgement Forms is midnight on Oct. 31, 2014. For groups, forms are due at midnight on Dec. 1, 2014. All funds must be spent by Apr. 30, 2015.
Payne’s job, along with three other liaisons across the country, is to make sure communities are aware that the credits can be used for purposes other than post-secondary education in the hope that the money will go towards legacy projects that benefit future generations.
“We’re going into the communities and saying, ‘You have so many CEP recipients, so rather than throwing that money away, think about how the community could benefit,’” Payne said.
Apart from raising awareness about the money’s existence, Payne said the biggest challenge is helping communities to deal with the administrative burden of making the applications, as there is often no additional funding in communities to hire someone to do the work of coordinating the plan, administering the credits and filling out the budget.
“It’s a really onerous process and people get really overwhelmed,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Payne said there is a lot of interest among communities to access the funds.
“We have a lot of First Nations chiefs and councils and governments that are really interested in supporting this process for their people, so they’re saying they’re going to make it work, but it is important that people understand there is an administrative burden.”