Some former residential school survivors in Labrador are preparing for Friday’s apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for the harms done while they attended the schools.
The apology follows a recent class action settlement between Canada and nearly 1,000 survivors from the province, who were left out of former prime minister Stephen Harper’s apology to Indian Residential School survivors from the rest of Canada in 2008.
The federal government argued at the time that it had no fiduciary obligation to survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador because the province was not part of Canada when the schools began operating.
The International Grenfell Association (IGA) ran three schools — in St. Anthony, Cartwright and North West River — while the Moravian Church ran schools in the Inuit coastal communities of Nain and Makkovik.
The last school closed in 1979.
While many former students who endured separation from their families, communities, and culture, as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse, have said the federal apology will help bring closure, for others it will not.
The Newfoundland and Labrador settlement only includes survivors who stayed in dormitories while attending the schools.
Survivors who attended only during the day, and those who attended only prior to 1949, have not been compensated and are not expected to be part of Canada’s official apology on Friday.
“Most of the students are willing to say that the apology should be given, and it should be given now before it’s too late,” said James Igloliorte, a retired Inuk judge hired by the federal government to oversee the commemoration and healing process for survivors.
“But many are also saying that this is a hollow sense to this apology because only one of four parties is actually speaking.”
Igloliorte said many survivors would also like to hear the Moravian Church, IGA and Government of Newfoundland and Labrador acknowledge their role in the former students’ suffering.
APTN asked the Moravian Church, IGA and Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball to respond to the survivors’ concerns.
The institutions that ran the schools did not respond by deadline, but on Thursday Ball issued a statement saying that the province will make an official apology after consulting with survivors.
Survivor Allan Webber, who attended and was abused at the Grenfell-run school in Cartwright in the 1950s, welcomes the apology and hopes it will help him on his healing journey.
“I die with the pain – you’re going to take it to your grave,” he told APTN this week. “But at least you got something you can put behind you and say goodbye to once and for all.”
At 75, today Webber lives with cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
He said he’s lucky to be alive to hear Trudeau’s apology because others are not.
“There’s so many young ones passed away, gone beyond, and I’m very sad because as far as I’m concerned it should have been settled years ago.”
Thursday, on the eve of Trudeau’s apology, leaders, elders and other members of the Innu Nation collectively decided not to accept Trudeau’s apology.
Amid an ongoing crisis of Innu children being removed from their families and communities and taken into state care, they said an apology from the prime minister would not be appropriate.
Instead, they want Canada to commit to joining the provincial government’s forthcoming inquiry into child welfare in the Innu communities of Sheshatshiu and Natuashish.
The Prime Minister’s Office has not yet responded to a request for comment from APTN.
Trudeau will have breakfast with some residential school survivors Friday morning in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and will then issue the federal government apology at the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre at 10 a.m. local time.
Tune in to APTN Friday morning beginning at 9:30 a.m. Atlantic/10:30 a.m. ET. for live coverage of the apology.
Follow Justin Brake for the latest from Labrador.