Nfld. & Labrador

Indigenous leader hopes next premier will apologize to N.L. residential school survivors

Nunasiavut President Johannes Lampe hopes apology ceremonies will be held in several Inuit communities once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and large numbers of people can gather for public events.

Outgoing Premier Dwight Ball says residential school survivors "deserve" an apology

Johannes Lampe, president of the Nunatsiavut government, wants to hold apology ceremonies when it is safe for large groups of people to gather. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The president of the Nunatsiavut government wants the next premier of Newfoundland and Labrador to fulfil a commitment to apologize to residential school survivors — a promise the outgoing premier will leave unkept.

Johannes Lampe said Friday he wants provincial apology ceremonies held in several Inuit communities once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and large numbers of people can gather for public events.

"We are hopeful that the next premier will follow through on this important commitment so that those impacted by residential schools can somewhat find closure," he said.

"I'm hopeful this will be on the priority list of the next leader of the government of Newfoundland and Labrador."

It's the right thing to do. It needs to be done but unfortunately we've run out of time for me as premier to do this.- Dwight Ball

In November 2017, a day before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized to Newfoundland and Labrador residential school survivors on behalf of Canada, Premier Dwight Ball said the province would also offer an apology to former students and their families.

But on Thursday, the premier's office issued a press release saying Ball won't be able to offer the apology before he leaves office later this summer.

N.L. Premier Dwight Ball speaks in western Newfoundland last month. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

"I regret that I am not able to deliver a sincere and personal apology from me, as premier, on behalf of Newfoundland and Labrador," said Ball in the release.

"An apology cannot undo the harm and the suffering that residential school students and their families endured, but it is an important step in the healing process for Inuit who were separated at a young age from their families, communities, culture and traditions."

The release said a plan to offer apologies in Labrador in March was derailed by restrictions on travel and public gatherings put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

In an interview with CBC News late Friday afternoon Ball said he doesn't want anyone suggesting he hasn't done everything possible to deliver an apology to this province's residential school survivors.

"It's the right thing to do. It needs to be done, but unfortunately we've run out of time for me as premier to do this," he said.

Critics have questioned if Ball really wants to make the apology he promised to give in 2017, and he wants to lay their doubts to rest.

"It's certainly something that personally I really wanted to do because I have spoken with many residential school survivors over the years and I've listened to the horrific personal stories, and they deserve an apology," he said.

According to the Premier the apology was set to happen in March, at the height of the pandemic.

Then the province tried to make it happen this summer, but finally came to the conclusion – with the agreement of Indigenous leaders – that COVID-19 health measures made it impossible to apologize in the manner that Indigenous groups wanted.

Ball also said he tried to make it happen before COVID-19 was a consideration.

"We've been in conversations with the Indigenous groups over the last few years. We really wanted to get this done, but more importantly, we wanted to get this done right," he said.

Ball said even when he is no longer premier he wants to attend the apology when it happens.

Apology 'long overdue' — leadership candidate

Liberal leadership candidate John Abbott says he would be eager deliver an apology to residential school survivors if he becomes the next premier.

John Abbott says he'll happily offer an apologize if he becomes premier. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

"It is fair to say that the apology is long overdue. Both the provincial government and the Nunatsiavut governments have been working on that. That work was started long before COVID, and it's unfortunate that it wasn't delivered before that," he said.

Abbott said he would be "more than happy" to deliver the apology.

"The apology has to be given as soon as possible and it has to be heartfelt."

CBC Radio's Labrador Morning asked leadership candidate Andrey Furey for an interview on the issue. A campaign spokesperson did not immediately return requests. However, Furey is in Labrador, accompanied by Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper.  A person in Trimper's office told CBC that travel delays meant Furey could not accommodate an interview.

Residential school survivor frustrated

Toby Obed, a residential school survivor who helped start a class-action lawsuit that reached a $50-million settlement for about 1,000 residential school survivors in 2016, is angry Ball didn't make the apology long before COVID-19 restrictions were in place.

Labrador resident Toby Obed was removed from his home at the age of three and forced to attend a residential school. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

"He just sat back and more or less just put it on the back burner. How ignorant and how rude and how dare him. He knew about this. I mean, this has just got me boiling," he said on the phone from his home in Hopedale.

On Thursday, one of the lawyers who represented the survivors in the class action also had strong words for the premier and the province.

"It is absolutely atrocious and the man should be ashamed. The province should be embarrassed."

Lampe heard those comments but but said he's focusing on the future.

"I know the frustration and anger of Mr. Obed and Mr. Cooper but we as Nunatsiavut government, we still have to work together closely with the government of Newfoundland and Labrador," he said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Mark Quinn

CBC News

Mark Quinn is a videojournalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.