Politics

Apology to Labrador residential school survivors must be followed by resources, say Inuit

The apology Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered to residential school survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador last week must be backed up with resources to have a long-term healing effect, say Inuit leaders and school survivors.

'We're going to need a lot, to deal with inter-generational trauma, to deal with our own past, our own hurts'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks with Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in Labrador. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

The apology Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered to residential school survivors in Newfoundland and Labrador last week must be backed up with resources to have a long-term healing effect, say Inuit leaders and school survivors.

"It's a part of making this right," said Natan Obed, leader of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents more than 60,000 Inuit nationally.

"These residential schools weren't meant to build star academic students. The intent was first and foremost to eradicate our culture, our identity, our language, our place in the world."

"What we need to do now is build the opposite, and that means greater investment, greater time, greater effort."

Obed made the case for more resources in a one-on-one conversation with Justin Trudeau in Happy Valley-Goose Bay during the prime minister's trip to Labrador to personally deliver the apology to residential school survivors.

It's something his cousin, Toby Obed, also mentioned when he met privately with Trudeau backstage at the auditorium where the prime minister made the apology. Toby Obed was the lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit that led to the settlement with residential school survivors.

Following Trudeau's apology on Friday, Inuk residential school survivor Toby Obed, who was instrumental during the class-action lawsuit effort, accepted the prime minister's words as a first step towards healing in an emotional address. (CBC)

"It's going to be interesting to see how the reconciliation comes to work," he told Trudeau.

"We're going to need a lot, to deal with inter-generational trauma, to deal with our own past, our own hurts, that we carried and we kept inside for so many years."

Trudeau acknowledged in that moment that Ottawa would need to deliver more than an apology.

'Awful lot of work to do'

"We have an awful lot of work to do together on this journey, and we are going to stay on it," Trudeau responded. "But you're right, today is the beginning of some very important next steps that we're going to be taking together."

He made the same promise publicly, when he conceded that the apology would not be enough to repair the decades of damage the Newfoundland and Labrador residential schools had done.

Inside the abandoned dormitory at the North West River residential school in the 1970s. (Marc Robichaud/CBC)

"It will not repair the hardships you endured in the years that followed as you struggled to recover from what you experienced in the schools and move forward with your lives," Trudeau said. "But today I'm here to tell you, on behalf of the government of Canada and of all Canadians, that this burden is one you no longer have to carry alone."

Jimmy Tuttauk, who ran away from a residential school in North West River, Labrador when he was 11, hopes the apology will help young Inuit understand why so many in the generation of survivors have led such damaged lives.

"That's very important. The healing can begin, it's beginning right now," Tuttauk said

"Now we can carry on with our lives, and maybe have better relationships with our youth, not only in our direct families but maybe in our entire communities, that's what it means to me."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has issued an apology to Indigenous people in Newfoundland and Labrador. Survivors of residential schools in that province were left out of an apology made by the federal government in 2008. Even now, some of them reject Trudeau's gesture, while other are struggling to decide if enough has been done 7:25