People in Igloolik, Nunavut, are still reeling from two intensely emotional days of testimony from former residential school students at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's hearings in the community this week.

Dozens of Inuit former students shared painful memories with the commission on Wednesday and Thursday, with many describing feeling isolated, assimilated and abused while in residential schools.

Some gave graphic descriptions of physical and sexual abuse while they were at residential schools, which were operated by churches as part of a federal program to to force the assimilation of young aboriginal people into European-Canadian society.

Many Inuit wept, wailed and screamed as they broke down at Thursday morning's hearing. Those who were overcome with grief held hands and formed a circle at Igloolik's community hall.

"I needed to see [an] Inuit cultural solution to it, so my reaction was to have a circle," Peter Irniq, the commission's Inuit cultural advisor, told CBC News.

"Hold hands, help each other, and cry together."

Mental health services needed, many said

Health-care workers were on hand to help former students during the hearings, but many in Igloolik demanded more permanent mental health services in their community.

Celine Iyerak, who gave most of her testimony in Inuktitut, suddenly switched to English and cried out, "I need help! My family needs help!"


Igloolik, Nunavut, hosted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Wednesday and Thursday, as the panel tours Canada's northern territories over the next two months. ((CBC))

Many who testified before the commission reported having frequent flashbacks that brought back the trauma of their residential school experiences.

Irniq said former students' outbursts of grief may seem shocking, but they can help people heal.

"They've been wanting to talk about this for a long period of time," he said. "This is going to be the first part of their story."

Officials with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said support workers will stay in Igloolik until early next week.

The three-person commission panel, which has the mandate of documenting Canada's residential school experience, is in Iqaluit to hold hearings there on Friday.

"We'll start to move forward in terms of our own healing journey," Irniq said. "Hopefully this is the beginning of talking about this for future generations to come."