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Problems could arise from settlement money

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Settlement funds due to residential school survivors are still at least a month away but many people are concerned, instead of aiding the healing process, the funds could set the stage for further abuses.
The Common Experience Payment (CEP) application forms will be available starting today and about 80,000 former students can start applying for compensation.
Ottawa admitted nine years ago physical and sexual abuse in the schools was rampant during the last century. About 150,000 students attended the residential schools which operated from the 1870s to the 1970s.
Gertrude Spear Chief, a Blood Tribe woman who spent 11 years in residential school, got the financial information she wanted and made plans for the mon= ey she’ll be receiving. She says people, especially elders with limited reading and writing skills, are confused about a= ll the information and offers coming their way.
“So who do you trust? Is this supposed to be healing or creating more problems?” she says. “Some of us, we know what we’re goin= g to do. My concern is people jumping on the bandwagon trying to make money off this.”
Concerns are well-founded. The $8,000 advance payments sent to survivors earlier this year resulted in one complaint involving elder abuse, says Blo= od Tribe Police Chief Bob Byers. With another windfall coming soon, police wan= t to be ready.
“We’ve already been working with the various entities on the reserve,” Byers says. “We’re trying to come up with a collective community response.”
The tribe’s victim service unit has been hosting information sessions= on elder abuse and the tribe will offer some counselling services to help peop= le deal with the emotions that may surface. In some situations, violence could erupt.
“I want to be prepared but not alarmist at this point,” Byers s= ays.
Across southern Alberta, the RCMP, including commercial crime and aboriginal policing units, have been developing plans for dealing with theft, scams and frauds.
“The whole idea is to educate people how to protect themselves and gi= ve them a clear awareness of what to do in any situation,” says RCMP spokesman Sgt. Patrick Webb.
RCMP Chief Supt. Doug Reti, head of national aboriginal policing services, believes most people will spend or invest the money wisely. But others will drink or shoot up payments that could also attract con artists bent on scamming the most vulnerable people, he fears.

“Most will deal with this extra money in a responsible way,” he says. “But there’s always those people that are easily taken advantage of and fall through the cracks.”
On a broader scale, an Ottawa-based community impacts working group has been meeting for almost a year and includes stakeholders such as the Assembly of First Nations, the Métis National Council, Health Canada, Service Ca= nada and the RCMP.
In addition, the Indian Residential Schools Survivors National conference h= eld earlier this year resulted in a report that formed the basis of a national = plan to help former students benefit from the Settlement Agreement.
The plan outlines several priority areas — fraud, scams, gang violenc= e, alcohol, drugs, gambling, community conflict, elder abuse, elder support and overcrowded housing.
However, another sort of problem concerns Rhonda Ruston and Vaughn Marshall, two southern Alberta lawyers who have been working with survivors for more = than a decade and helped broker the agreement with the federal government. They sound a warning about people who advertise themselves as form-fillers witho= ut having the necessary expertise.
“It’s absolutely essential that people understand that they sho= uld not be paying anyone a cent to help them fill out the CEP form,” Rust= on says.
CEP forms are available at Service Canada outlets and s= taff have been trained to help people fill out the form. The CEP provides $10,000 compensation for the first year spent in a residential school and $3,000 for each year after that.
The Independent Assessment Process (IAP) is separate from the CEP and rough= ly 15,000 people are expected to use it. The IAP applies only to survivors who suffered serious physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
“I think it’s important people have good solid legal advice for that IAP. It’s a complicated process with different kinds of compensa= tion,” Ruston says.”Unless one is an experienced lawyer in these personal in= jury matters, people are going to short-change themselves.”
In some cases, the so-called form fillers work with a lawyer who may charge additional fees and not have the necessary experience.
Service Canada staff will be at the Medicine Tree Friendship Centre in Lethbridge Thursday to help people fill out CEP forms= and plans are underway to do the same in Stand Off. Dates haven’t been confirmed.
IAP application forms can be requested by calling the Indian Residential Schools Help Desk toll-free at 1-800-816-7293.
© Copyright by Lethbridge Herald.com
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