A national class-action lawsuit has been launched in Ontario seeking more than $12.5 billion in federal compensation for the 91,000 people who attended Indian residential schools across Canada.

The Assembly of First Nations, Canada’s largest native organization is endorsing the claim. “’The AFN will indicate to the courts they are supportive of it as a tool for adequately compensating school victims,”’ said Craig Brown, one of four Toronto lawyers working on the claim.

The AFN will also be a valuable ally when it comes time to ask a judge to certify the claim, the first step in the class-action process. Brown said.

The claim seeks damages not only for every person who attended and Indian residential school between 1920 and 1996, but also for members of their families. It claims damages not only for physical and sexual abuse – the two areas that have so far yielded compensation in the courts – but also for a wide range of hardships, including forcible confinement, breach of treaty and loss of language and culture.

Brown said the lawsuit, initially filed against both Ottawa and the Christian churches that helped operate the schools, will be amended to include only the government as a defendant. A year ago, an Ontario judge refused to certify a residential school class action for former students of the Mohawk Institute Residential School near Brantford, Ont.

The judge ruled that the experiences of the students at the one school were not similar enough to enable them to sue as a class. That decision is under appeal.