Pauline Van Koll, who lives on the west side of Okanagan Lake, says being adopted away from her Salish family as a baby to non-Indigenous homes turned her life upside down.
It meant she grew up not knowing where she was from, her heritage, or her parents.
It left her feeling like she didn’t belong anywhere.
Van Koll’s birth mother died before Van Koll had a chance to meet her.
“I was 18 when my adopted mom found my biological family and I went to go see them in Chilliwack and the government said, ‘No, you have to wait till you are 19.’ So I returned when I was 19 to find out that my mom died when I was 18. I was angry and sad,” Van Koll said.
Van Koll is one of the thousands of people removed from their Indigenous families as children who are eligible for $25,000 in compensation from the federal government as part of a Sixties Scoop class-action lawsuit.
However, since her claim was approved in 2019, she says she’s only received a partial payment of $21,000.
“It has been years now that we have been waiting and, you know, enough is enough,” said Van Koll.
Originally, Van Koll was told she would be eligible for compensation in the range of $25,000 to $50,000.
But, because of the large number of eligible survivors who joined the class action, the total compensation per person is now expected to be $25,000.
“I don’t think my life, that they destroyed, is worth $25,000. I think it is worth a lot more,” said Van Koll.
Van Koll is not alone. Thousands of people have signed an online petition highlighting multiple concerns with the class action including the time it has taken to process the settlement.
Petition organizer Sharon Gladue said some survivors are nearing the end of their lives as they wait for full compensation.
“We have been waiting for compensation since 2019. We’ve waited for three years for the $25,000 which unfortunately is the least amount that we will be getting for loss of culture and loss of identity and loss of language,” Gladue said.
Douglas Lennox, one of the lawyers who worked on the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, said he can’t give a timeline for when those like Van Koll, still waiting for their final payment, will get the funds.
“The order that allowed for an interim payment in June of 2020 required us to go back to court before we made a final payment and the concern that the court has is to make sure that we don’t run out of money. That there isn’t somebody that doesn’t get paid because others got paid ahead of them,” said Lennox.
“The claims process has been complicated and took a lot longer than anyone anticipated. It is close to 90 per cent complete…but there are still claimants that have appeals, at the moment, that hasn’t been resolved yet and we don’t want somebody to lose out on compensation because their appeal took some time,” Lennox said.
Global News reached out to Collectiva, the organization administering the class action settlement, and Lennox responded.
Asked what he’d say to those who don’t feel like $25,000 isn’t a fair settlement, Lennox said no amount of money is enough to compensate for what was lost.
“The amount of money that was paid was approved by the court in what is a very novel and important case. It really is the first case anywhere in the world where courts have recognized culture as something that is compensable: that the loss of our language is something the government is required to pay for,” Lennox said.
Class members like Van Koll are still waiting to hear when that novel court decision will translate into a full settlement.
Petition calls for interest and new applicants
Gladue’s online Sixties Scoop petition also calls for interest collected on the funds that haven’t been paid out to go to survivors, and for the claims process to be reopened to new applications who may have missed the previous deadline.
More than 14,000 people have added their names to the petition.
Gladue said some survivors faced challenges applying for compensation.
“The ones that were impacted heavily were those that were out of Canada. They weren’t able to access their records. There were some survivors that didn’t even know that there was this class-action lawsuit that was happening, ” Gladue said.
Lennox said with any settlement there are deadlines and while efforts were made to reach out to as many people as possible, he doesn’t see a legal basis for reopening the class to new claims.
On the issue of interest, Lennox said that money is set to go to a foundation.
“There is money that has been in an interest-bearing account generating funds over time. It is not as much as people might think. Interest rates until quite recently have not been very high but that money, such as it is, goes to the 60’s Scoop Foundation,” said Lennox.
“That is a term of the settlement that was approved by the court. The foundation is a charitable organization that funds projects across the country to promote healing and reconciliation. This settlement wasn’t just about giving people direct cash payments. It was also about educating the broader Canadian public about scoop about what happened to children in this country.
“So this interest money is going for a worthy cause that I hope would provide some comfort to survivors.”