Labrador excluded from benefits of TRC report, school survivor says
A residential school survivor from Labrador and an aboriginal leader are criticizing the Canadian government in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's summary report and findings, which were revealed to Canadians on Tuesday.
Aboriginal communities in Labrador affected by residential schools are feeling excluded from reaping the benefits of the TRC report, especially with regards to the settlement agreement.
"We should have been included," said Nora Ford, who attended a residential school in Labrador.
"I don't understand why we weren't."
The TRC's mandate was to learn the truth about what happened in the country's residential schools and to inform all Canadians on the findings.
That report made 94 recommendations to help heal the wounds inflicted by forced assimilation. Between 1883 and 1996, more than 150,000 children were taken from their homes and sent to residential schools, where stories of sexual and physical abuse were common. More than 6,000 of those children died while in state care.
Ford said the problem is that for much of the pre-1949 period that the report deals with, Newfoundland and Labrador was not yet a part of Canada.
Therefore, residential school survivors in Labrador from before that time are not included in the federal Indian residential schools settlement agreement.
Ford said the commission did somewhat address residential school survivors in Labrador, though references were limited, but she said government policy that is coming from the report clearly does exclude them.
"I think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is not exempting the Labrador claimants, she told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.
"I think it's the Harper government that's doing this."
Changing the attitude of apology to one of action
Ford said while the Harper government did include Labrador survivors in an official apology in 2008, the lack of action in the years that followed speaks for itself.
"Back in 2008, we were invited to an apology by the PM in Ottawa to all residential school participants and Labrador was included," she said.
"The apology was not intended for us, we were never recognized."
Todd Russell, president of NunatuKavut council and a former Labrador MP, said residential school survivors in Labrador are no different than for those in the rest of the country.
"The experience of the people I have spoken to is much like the experience of those across Canada," he said.
"A dislocation from family, a separation from community, a suppression of culture and in some of the worst cases, there was sexual and physical abuse."
He said the report did include Labrador in its recommendations, which should be enough in getting the federal government to take steps to try and repair those wounds.
"Hopefully that will go some way in making sure that these people are heard, and that reconciliation can happen for them as it should for all aboriginal Canadians who went through this," he said.
"The sins of our nation were laid bare today through the courage of those survivors who told their stories and now we must honour that truth for doing what it right for future generations."
The experiences of residential school survivors in Labrador
Ford said the TRC report's labelling of the system as a form of 'cultural genocide' is an accurate description.
"When you're stripped of that culture, when you're language is taken away from you, your traditional ways are removed from your lifestyle — that is a form of genocide," she said.
"We couldn't speak our language, we were shunned, we were humiliated."
In addition too that, spending time in the school created an identity crisis where she felt she did not belong to any culture afterwards.
"I wasn't accepted in the white community, and then when I went back to my community I was shunned there too," she said.
Ford now lives in St. John's, and said even on the island portion of the province there exists a certain lack of sensitivity to the plight of those in Labrador that survived the residential school system.
"I think there's a complacency," she said.
"I've heard some pretty negative comments about it."