Nfld. & Labrador

Residential school students still want apology, compensation

Former residential school students in Newfoundland and Labrador were back in court Monday to fight for an apology and compensation they feel is long overdue.

More than 1,000 former residential school students weren't included in 2008 address

Nicky Obed says he was sent to a residential school in St. Anthony after his mother died in the late 1950s, and stayed in the residential school system for eight years. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Former residential school students in Newfoundland and Labrador were back in court Monday to fight for an apology and compensation they feel is long overdue.  

Nicky Obed and Cindy Lyall join more than 1,000 people who claim they suffered abused and were systematically striped of their traditional cultures after being sent to live in residential schools in the province. 

Obed was born in Hopedale. but told CBC News he was sent to a residential school in St. Anthony after his mother died in the late 1950s.

"I was in St. Anthony from the year 1958 until 1966."

When he first arrived at the orphanage, Obed said he didn't understand any English. 

"I only could speak Inuktitut when I was a kid. That's the only thing I could understand." 

The house mothers at the orphanage, he said, were "very unkind" to children who spoke in their native tongue. 

I will never forgive him, because up to this day I still think about the sexual abuse, the unkindliness.- Nicky   Obed , former residential school student 

"After a couple of years I lost it and learned English, and I'm very sorry that today I can't speak Inuktitut anymore."

"As I got a little bit older, we [were] abused, sexually abused. I've been abused a number of times," he said. 

Obed said at about 13, he left the Northern Peninsula to attend another residential school in North West River, Labrador. Once again, he alleges, he was abused. 

"It happened again. I will never forgive him, because up to this day I still think about the sexual abuse, the unkindliness."

Obed, now 59, said when he returned to his hometown years later he was ostracized for no longer being able to speak Inuktitut.

'She locked me in the coat closet'

Cindy Dwyer said she suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse while she was a student in North West River. 

From age five to 15, Dwyer said she and the other children were "terrified" of their house parents, a term for those who looked after the children. 

Cindy Dwyer said she repressed memories of her abuse for years. She was later diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

One woman in particular, she said, was especially abusive.  

"[One day] she locked me in the coat closet and I didn't get to school that morning. I banged on the door all morning and couldn't get out, couldn't get out," said Dwyer.

"I ended up peeing on the floor in there, in my pants. I never got out until someone came home for dinner."

Another day, Dwyer said, the same woman physically assaulted her in a bathroom. 

Dwyer feels an apology would be more meaningful if it came from the International Grenfell Association, or the IGA, the group tasked with hiring staff. 

"An apology is really important to me but I don't trust an apology from Stephen Harper because I really don't believe anything that he says."

No apologies  

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to residential school victims across Canada in the House of Commons in 2008, Inuit and Innu people from Newfoundland and Labrador were excluded. 

People from the province didn't receive any of the more than $4 billion in compensation that was paid out to tens of thousands of residential school victims across the country. 

According to the federal government, the five schools in question weren't created under The Indian Act and therefore weren't true residential schools. 

Government also argued that it didn't operate the schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, rather they were created before the province joined Confederation in 1949.

Too many similarities 

Toronto-based lawyer Kirk Baerr said there are many similarities between residential schools that operated in Newfoundland and Labrador and those that existed in other parts of the country — from the way they operated to alleged instances of abuse. 
Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the residential school system in June 2008. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians weren't included in that apology. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

It's for those reasons, he said, that students like Obed and Dwyer should receive the same apology and compensation as former residential school students in other parts of Canada. 

About two dozen former students are prepared to testify in court in St. John's about the alleged abuse. Opening statements began on Monday.

Baert and other lawyers are calling for a quick settlement, after mediation failed this summer. 

Obed and Dwyer signed on to the class action suit more than eight years ago.

Both said they would prefer to settle the matter out of court so they won't have to testify about their experiences and face cross-examination.

With files from Mark Quinn

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