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A small crowd gathered at the Native Friendship Centre in St. John's to watch the televised apology. ((CBC))

Labrador's aboriginal people are accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of ignoring the pain and suffering they experienced at boarding schools.

Harper made a historic apology Wednesday in the House of Commons for the federal government's involvement in the residential school system.

But the apology has left Inuit and Innu leaders in Labrador feeling left out, because the boarding schools they attended were not run by the federal government itself. The schools were set up before Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949.

Harper's speech specifically noted that residential schools were established in every province other than Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Jim Lyall, the president of Nunatsiavut, the Inuit government in Labrador, said Harper is trying to escape responsibility on a technicality.

Lyall, who attended boarding schools in Nain and North West River, said those memories came back as Harper spoke.

"Basically anger," said Lyall, describing his emotions Wednesday.

"I guess different people suffered in different ways, but I mean, we suffered as well. To this day, I can't even comprehend how my mother and father felt when we were gone for 10 months a year [and they] didn't know what was happening to us."

Founded by Yale students

The school in North West River, in central Labrador, was founded in the 1920s by Yale University students who came to work with the International Grenfell Association. Inuit students from Labrador's northern coast stayed in a dormitory that was managed separately from the school.

Some Innu from Labrador were sent to Roman Catholic schools and even to the notorious Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's, which was closed in 1990 amid a scandal over sexual and physical abuse committed by Christian Brothers.

Innu Nation Grand Chief Mark Nui said many of his people suffered through a system very similar to the residential schools.

"It's sad, in a situation like this, abuses that occurred in the schools without fully being recognized by the government who contracted out the work to the province," Nui said.

Lawyers for Innu and Inuit are arguing precisely that point in several court cases involving churches, the Newfoundland and Labrador government and the federal government. More than 300 former residential school students are involved in a class action lawsuit.

Meanwhile, a small group gathered in St. John's at the Native Friendship Centre to watch the televised broadcast of Harper's apology.

'Slap in the face'

"It goes far for some aboriginal peoples," said Ruth Winters, who spent three years at the school in North West River, "but it doesn't go far enough for Newfoundland, New Brunswick and P.E.I. It doesn't go far enough. It made me feel very emotional."

Cindy Lyall said she was hoping for an apology that would include her experiences.

"I grew up in a residential school in Labrador [and was] sexually, physically and emotionally abused, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a slap in the face," she said.

Christopher Sheppard, the after-school program co-ordinator at the centre, said some of his family members spent time at residential schools in Labrador. He said he has doubts about the prime minister's sincerity.

"It could have been a little more heartfelt from Stephen Harper," Sheppard said.

"I think they should still take responsibility for what happened, regardless of it was run by them or not, because it happened in Canada."