Trudeau Apologizes for Abuse and ‘Profound Cultural Loss’ at Indigenous Schools

Trudeau Apologizes for Abuse and ‘Profound Cultural Loss’ at Indigenous Schools


“For far too many students, profound cultural loss led to poverty, family violence, substance abuse and community breakdown,” Mr. Trudeau said. “It led to mental and physical health issues that have impeded their happiness and that of their family. Far too many continue to face adversity today as a result of time spent in residential schools, and for that we are sorry.”

At the arts center where Mr. Trudeau spoke, organizers had stacked boxes of facial tissues. They were put to use. Mr. Trudeau blotted his eyes and dabbed his nose with a handkerchief, and former students and others in the crowd sobbed.

Toby Obed, 45, a former student and one of the leaders of the class-action lawsuit, entered the stage after Mr. Trudeau in a jubilant mood, arms raised and shouting, “We did it.”

But Mr. Obed was overcome by emotion as well.

“We felt left out, forgotten and abandoned,” said Mr. Obed, who had testified about being a victim of sexual assault. “Because I come from a patient and forgiving culture, I think it is proper for us to accept an apology from the government of Canada.”

Not everyone in the region’s indigenous community was so forgiving.

Grand Chief Greg Rich of the Innu Nation, an umbrella organization of indigenous groups, said in a statement that he wanted the apology to also recognize injustices suffered by aboriginal children in day schools, at an orphanage and in the child-welfare system.

“Our elders are not ready to accept an apology that is made for such a small part of our experience,” Mr. Rich said in his statement.

But Todd Russell, the president of NunatuKavut, an organization of Southern Inuit in Labrador, said he believed that the vast majority of former students welcomed the news.

“The apology was delivered in absolute sincerity and humility,” Mr. Russell, a former member of Parliament, said in an interview from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. “Today we were brought into the warmth of the cabin.”

The federal boarding school system for which Mr. Harper apologized in 2008 was one of several policies championed by Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, to assimilate indigenous people. While established and funded by the government, the operation of the schools was contracted out to several Christian religious denominations.

In contrast, the program in Newfoundland and Labrador was much less systematic. Those schools and related dormitories were set up by Moravian missionaries or the International Grenfell Association, a Newfoundland charity established by Wilfred T. Grenfell, a British surgeon, missionary and explorer.

In an email, Keating Hagmann, the chairman of the Grenfell Association, apologized for “not sheltering these individuals from the suffering they endured” and welcomed the government’s apology. The charity, which brought schooling and health care to remote Newfoundland communities aboriginal or otherwise, was largely out of the indigenous schools by the 1970s.

The Moravian Mission in North America did not respond to requests for comment.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that came out of Mr. Harper’s 2008 apology looked not only at the legacy of residential schools but also at overall relations between Canada and its indigenous people.

It produced a long list of recommendations that Mr. Trudeau has largely pledged to fulfill, although some members of the indigenous community say it has taken too long to act.



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