Nfld. & Labrador·New

Labrador aboriginal people still want Ottawa apology

Inuit, Innu and Métis in Labrador want the federal government to reconsider an earlier decision not to include them in a compensation package and apology for the pain and suffering that residential schools caused aboriginal Canadians.

They say the federal government failed in 2008 to recognize the impact residential school had on them

Inuit, Innu and Métis in Labrador want the federal government to reconsider an earlier decision not to include them in a compensation package and apology for the pain and suffering that residential schools caused aboriginal Canadians.

About 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children attended residential schools across Canada, but when the federal government unveiled its compensation package in 2007 and 2008, thousands of Labrador Inuit, Innu and Métis survivors said they were left out.

More than 20 Inuit from Labrador attended a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in Halifax over the weekend with the intention of sending a message to the federal government.

"[We’re here] so Labrador’s experience of residential schools is acknowledged, recognized and we too have an apology," said Shirley Flowers, a residential school survivor from Hopedale.

The schools they attended weren't run or funded by the federal government. The residential schools were set up before Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, but the Inuit believe the federal government should acknowledge their experiences too.

"I am hopeful that we will be recognized. I can't see how we can't be recognized. We are here today. We are survivors today. We are Canadians today. I think we should be recognized," said Flowers.

A residential 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.

John Duncan, the federal minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, was at the truth and reconciliation hearings in Halifax this past weekend.

"I have meetings with the Nunatsiavut government later this week. So, we will be having discussions," said Duncan.

He did not say if Ottawa is considering recognition of the Labrador Inuit's claims.

In September 2008, the government formalized a $1.9-billion compensation plan for victims. The government also established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine the legacy of the residential schools.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons in June 2008 to apologize to former students of native residential schools.

In June 2009, a judge gave former residential school students from Newfoundland and Labrador approval to proceed with a class action lawsuit that claims they were mistreated at the schools from 1949 to 1979.

The lawsuit claims that about 5,000 aboriginal children, mostly Inuit and some Métis, attended the schools.

The Inuit in Halifax over the weekend said they plan to renew their call to be included at a meeting with the federal affairs minister later this week.