In a ceremony six years in the making, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey apologized Friday in Cartwright on Labrador’s southern coast to boarding school survivors and the NunatuKavut people on behalf of the provincial government.
The treatment of NunatuKavut Inuit in residential schools represents a “tragic and sad chapter” in the province’s history, Furey said.
“Today, with a heavy heart, I respectfully and humbly offer an apology to the NunatuKavut students who attended residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador,” Furey said at the ceremony, held at the Cartwright Recreation Centre.
“As Premier, and on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, I extend these apologies to the students, their families and the people of NunatuKavut. We are sorry.”
Furey was joined by Indigenous Affairs Minister Lisa Dempster and NunatuKavut Community Council President Todd Russell on Friday, the day before National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. The apology was promised by the Newfoundland and Labrador government in 2017, by then-premier Dwight Ball.
“We have a responsibility to acknowledge the past,” Furey said. “As we look back at what the alumni endured… we commend them for coming forward, for continuing to share their stories. Their bravery and resilience are a strength for us all. Therefore, we make a solemn commitment that history “let it not be forgotten. and it should not be repeated.”
After sharing the apology, Furey said he hopes it can help people on their healing journey, though he acknowledged his words couldn’t do much.
“The tragedy of enduring the separation of families and communities is something we experience every day,” the prime minister said.
“My words here today do not suggest that an apology will alleviate the pain and suffering that you are all enduring. However, as I come here today and express with complete sincerity that I am sorry, it is my hope that your healing journey can truly continue.” .”
Russell was the first to the podium and called Friday’s apology an important and meaningful occasion.
“It’s very important that we celebrate this historic day. It’s a historic day here in Cartwright, in NunatuKavut, in Labrador, in this province and in this country,” Russell said.
“Today is about healing. It is about reconciliation. It is about recognizing that many of our people were separated from our families, from our communities and, yes, from our culture… We are hopeful that today can be a point turning point in the path towards reconciliation that we are traveling together”.
Russell said he sensed the sincerity in Furey’s apology.
“I hope the alumni and our families felt it too. It’s important and I appreciate it,” Russell said. “I pray that this day, this moment, can be a source of healing for some.”
Cartwright’s Cookie Lethbridge hopes coming together as a community at the ceremony will help do just that.
The Lethbridge mother was abused at Lockwood School in Cartwright, she said, adding that the abuse was often passed on to her own children.
“I’m not so sure Mom is all that excited about an apology, because it’s been a long time coming,” Lethbridge said. “But I know she would be happy for people to be together and recover.”
Sandra Mugford, part of a drum group that played at the ceremony, watched the apology while holding her uncle, who along with Mugford’s mother and four siblings attended residential schools.
“He seemed very sincere. [Furey] I came in with an open mind and heart, and I could really feel that. “I could feel it,” Mugford said.
The NunatuKavut Community Council represents about 6,000 Inuit in central and southern Labrador, but Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national representative organization for Inuit in Canada, disputes NunatuKavut’s claims of Inuit identity. Earlier this week, the Nunatsiavut government and the Innu Nation objected to the apology to NunatuKavut, while Furey said apologies will also be made to the province’s other Indigenous groups.
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