Residential school survivors from Newfoundland and Labrador say they are still seeking recognition from the federal government for what they went through.
More than a dozen former students from the province, mostly Inuit and some Métis, are among the more than 1,000 people who are attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's major event this week in Inuvik, N.W.T.
The Inuvik gathering, which began Tuesday and runs until Friday, is the commission's second of seven national events as it gathers statements from former residential school students, staff and others who want to share their experiences.
About 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children across Canada were placed in more than 130 residential schools from the late 1870s until the last school closed in 1996.
Most students were forbidden to speak their native languages or otherwise engage in their culture at the schools, which were run by churches and funded by the federal government. Some reported experiencing physical and sexual abuse.
'Labrador Inuit want to be believed'
While the federal government officially apologized to most of Canada's residential school survivors in 2008, and offered compensation to those students, former students from Newfoundland and Labrador have not been recognized by Ottawa.
"Labrador Inuit have told the truth. Labrador Inuit want to be believed. Labrador Inuit want to begin the journey of reconciliation," Danny Pottle, finance minister with Labrador's Nunatsiavut Inuit government, said at a sharing circle Thursday in Inuvik.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper excluded former students from Newfoundland and Labrador in his 2008 apology speech, as the federal government maintains that it did not directly fund the five residential schools in that province.
But Emily Obed of Hopedale, N.L., who was forced to attend a residential school in North West River, said her experiences are similar to those of former students across the country.
"I got smacked in the back of my head for speaking our language," Obed told CBC News.
Unable to heal without recognition
Obed and other students said they lost their native languages and their connections to their communities.
The federal government's refusal to recognize Labrador Inuit former students is preventing them from healing, said Toby Obed, another former student from Hopedale.
"We deserve the apology that everybody else got. We never got it," he said.
"We're looking for that, too. We're looking for the help and the support that the rest of Canada got, and we want it … we need it."
Thousands of former students from Newfoundland and Labrador have signed on to a class-action lawsuit against the federal government. That lawsuit is still before the courts.
In the meantime, Emily Obed said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's gathering is giving her a start in healing.
"We're not being pushed away from anybody. We're being held," she said tearfully.