Nfld. & Labrador

Demolition of Nain Boarding School closes 'dark chapter' of Inuit history, says Nunatsiavut

Elders, survivors and children gathered in Nain on Monday to watch the abandoned building be demolished.

'I felt at peace,' says survivor Sipla Obed, who stayed at the school in the 1960s

An excavator is parked near an old building with faded white sides, a brown roof and green trim.
The former Nain boarding school was demolished on Monday. The Nunatsiavut Government said the demolition was the closing of a "dark chapter in the history of Labrador Inuit." (Submitted by Elsie Russell)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Elders, survivors and children gathered in Nain on Monday to watch the abandoned Nain Boarding School demolished, closing a "dark chapter in the history of Labrador Inuit," according to a statement by the Nunatsiavut government.

Boarding school survivor Silpa Obed said she felt something "really strong" when the building was torn down.

"I felt at peace. And hopefully sometime soon I will heal," she said. "Finally the old boarding school is torn down. I won't see it there anymore."

The school was built by the Hudson's Bay Company and given to the Moravian Church in 1936. It operated as one of the province's five residential schools until 1973.

Obed was born in Hebron in 1955 before being forced to relocate by the provincial government in 1959 to Makkovik. In the early 1960s, her father died and mother remarried a man in Nain, so Obed and her two brothers had to move again. 

One spring before the ice broke up, their mother and stepfather decided to go out on the land hunting and trapping. However, the children were forced by the school to stay behind and were put up in the Nain Boarding School. 

Children are standing in front of a heated tent. Behind the tent is an abandoned building with grey sides, a brown roof and green trim. The windows are almost all boarded up and one is broken.
Survivors and community members gathered outside the former Nain boarding school on Monday to see the building be demolished. (Submitted by Stephanie Angnatok)

"We had no other choice," Obed said. "We didn't know what we was coming into and to tell the truth, me and my brothers, we didn't know anyone from Nain." 

One of the first nights, Obed said she was in her bed upstairs and it was very dark. She was eight or nine and said she had to go to the bathroom but didn't know where one was and was too scared to go searching alone in the dark. 

"I had no choice but to pee in the bed," Obed said.

The next morning, Obed told her older brother Sam about it and Sam suggested she tell the workers, which she did during breakfast. They told her to bring the mattress downstairs, she said.

"With all the children having breakfast there and I had to show them, bring the mattress downstairs and had to show them that I peed," Obed said. 

Obed said she blocked out the rest of her experience at the school and has had trouble socially since going to the school. 

"Since the building was up so long until today, I had to pass it day and night," Obed said. "And at times, I didn't want to look at the building or pass the building, but I had no other choice."

The government said the residential school survivor committee in Nain submitted a request to the community's church group to have the building demolished as part of reconciliation between the Moravian Church and Labrador Inuit. 

"While this will be a very emotional day for many people, it is also a day of empowerment," said Nunatsiavut's Language, Culture and Tourism Minister Roxanne Barbour in a press release. 

"It is an opportunity for those who are residential school survivors, and their descendants, to see a building be torn down that holds so many bad memories. Today is a day to stand up and be proud to be Inuit and to be proud of who we are, our culture, language and history."

Obed went to watch the demolition with her cousin, friend and her daughter. She said she was thinking of her brothers Sam and Willy during the demolition and was able to share some of her experience with her cousin and daughter.

She said she hopes the upcoming generations never have to experience the boarding schools her generation had. 

"I'm happy they were there, the children from school, today." 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by media reports. 

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat at www.hopeforwellness.ca.

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