Trudeau apologizes to Newfoundland-Labrador residential school survivors

By Nunatsiaq News - November 27, 2017

In a long-awaited act of contrition, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologized to the Inuit, Innu and NunatuKavut people of Newfoundland-Labrador for abuses they suffered inside five residential schools.

The apology, which Trudeau delivered on Friday, Nov. 24, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, follows a $50-million settlement that the federal government and survivors of the five schools agreed to in May 2016.

The Moravian school in Makkovik, Labrador, in a photo taken in 1926. (L.T. Burwash / Library and Archives Canada / PA-099500 via Nunatsiaq News)
The Moravian school in Makkovik, Labrador, in a photo taken in 1926. (L.T. Burwash / Library and Archives Canada / PA-099500 via Nunatsiaq News)

“Saying that we are sorry today is not enough. It will not undo the harm that was done to you. It will not bring back the languages and traditions you lost,” Trudeau said.

The apology was directed to former students of the Lockwood School in Cartwright, the Makkovik Boarding School, the Nain Boarding School, the St. Anthony Orphanage and Boarding School, and the Yale School, operated by either the Moravian Mission or the International Grenfell Association, under the supervision of the provincial government.

At those institutions, Indigenous students suffered abuses such as:

• Physical neglect, including insufficient food.

• Beatings and sexual abuse.

• The forced suppression of their Indigenous languages and cultures.

• Forced separation from their families.

“We share this burden with you by fully accepting our responsibilities—and our failings—as a government and as a country, Trudeau said.

Not all Indigenous peoples in Newfoundland-Labrador have accepted the apology.

VOCM radio in St. John’s has reported that the Innu Nation in Labrador has refused to accept Trudeau’s apology, saying it does not cover other abuses that Innu have suffered, including time spent at the infamous Mt. Cashel orphanage and abuses perpetrated by the child welfare system.

Newfoundland-Labrador Premier Dwight Ball is expected to make an apology on behalf of his government sometime in the future.

The Indigenous peoples of Newfoundland-Labrador were barred from participating in the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement that offered cash compensation to Indigenous survivors of residential schools.

That meant that survivors from Labrador and northern Newfoundland were not included in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology, given in 2008.

The NunatuKavut Community Council, on the other hand, has accepted the apology.

“NCC acknowledges that the prime minister’s apology can be a step forward in reconciliation and an important part of building a true nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, Todd Russell, the NunatuKavut president, said in a statement.

The NunatuKavut people are people of mixed Inuit-European heritage who formerly called themselves the Labrador Métis Nation.

You can find a copy of the apology on Trudeau’s official website.