Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador and apologized for the role Canada played in the institutions that took Innu and Inuit children from their homes and put them in residential schools.
“We know today that this colonial way of thinking led to practices that caused deep harm.”
Nearly 1,000 children were taken from their homes and sent to any one of five residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador.
They were left out of the 2008 apology from former Prime Minister Stephen Harper because, Canada said, it had nothing to do with running the schools.
A class action lawsuit followed that was eventually settled by the Trudeau Liberals shortly after they took power in 2015.
James Tuttauk said he appreciated Trudeau’s apology, and that it will help him on his healing journey.
“It’s starting to come full circle, come to an end,” Tuttauk said.
“There’s still a bit of a journey for us to heal better. But I feel great right now. A lot of the negative aspects of waiting for the apology, and dealing nearly 10 years with Harper, and with Prime Minister Trudeau. It’s great, it was quick, he said it as quick as possible, and this is what we wanted.
“I can carry on my life with a positive attitude.”
(Trudeau and Toby Obed hug after the prime minister issues his apology)
For many, it was an emotional day that they have been waiting decades for.
“Because I come from a patient and forgiving culture, I think it is proper for us to accept the apology from the Government of Canada,” said an emotional Toby Obed.
“I accept your apology on behalf of the residential school survivors, even though some of them might not want me to.”
During his 10 minute apology, Trudeau outlined what Canada did wrong.
“Today I humbly stand before you to offer a long overdue apology to the former students of the Lockwood school in Cartwright, the Makkovik boarding school, the Nain boarding school, the St. Anthony orphanage and boarding school, the Yale boarding school in Newfoundland and Labrador, on behalf of the Government of Canada and all Canadians.”
The apology offered some reprieve from their suffering.
“I could see in his eyes that he was sincere about what he said,” said residential school survivor Cindy Dwyer. “It wasn’t like a lot of times government say things because they have to say it. But he said it and he meant it and that means all the world to me,”
The day went ahead without the Innu Nation.
On Thursday, the community voted to not accept the apology and boycott the ceremony.
They said the federal government isn’t doing enough to help address their current child welfare crisis where staggering numbers of Innu children are still being taken from communities via the child welfare system.
Innu and Inuit have both said the Muskrat Falls hydro dam threatens their food and way of life.
While Trudeau acknowledged the role colonialism played in Canada’s past, his speech and responses to journalists following the event negated any acknowledgment of what many in Labrador regard as ongoing colonialism.
“This is a step, big step, but it’s a step in our long journey towards reconciliation,” he said. “And that’s exactly what we are embarked upon. There’s many concerns about children in foster care now and how we need to do better by them. There’s concerns around respect for land and culture and languages, things that this government hears and knows and is working very very hard on.”
Trudeau also deferred primary responsibility for Innu children and Muskrat Falls to the provincial government.
While some will find solace in the prime minister’s apology, others says they will continue the fight for their children, land, and way of life.