Residential School Survivors Call for Genuine Apologies and Reconciliation from N.L. Premier

Residential School Survivors Call for Genuine Apologies and Reconciliation from N.L. Premier
Miriam Lyall is a residential school survivor originally from Hopedale, Labrador. She said she would have preferred Premier Andrew Furey to spend more time in Labrador and listen to survivors instead of doing six apologies in three days. Heidi Atter

As Premier Andrew Furey of Newfoundland and Labrador begins a series of apologies to residential school survivors this week, many demand genuine engagement, asking for more than just words. The apologies are being conducted amidst tensions between the provincial government and Indigenous groups in Labrador.

Miriam Lyall, an Inuk survivor from Nunatsiavut, who plans to attend the ceremony in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, voiced her concerns: “Listen to us, not just apologize and then go all the way back to St. John’s, but make sure that what we are doing is fruitful. That’s all I can say.”

Lyall recalls the traumatic years after she was forcibly taken from her Hopedale home at age 13. At the North West River dormitory, known for its history of abuse, she was forced to abandon her Inuit identity and language. “I no longer knew my parents,” Lyall shared, emphasizing the lifelong impact and the decades of depression that followed.

Premier Andrew Furey speaks to the media after his Liberals won a majority government at a press conference at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s on Saturday, March 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly

She admitted skepticism about the forthcoming apologies, “I just hope everything will turn out for the better from the apology.”

In a related concern, Michelle Kinney, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Development for the Nunatsiavut Government, mentioned that the community is awaiting tangible action in the form of “changes in policies and practices within the provincial government.” Kinney hopes that ceremonies held in each community can bring some form of closure and acknowledgement to survivors.

Norman Andersen, another survivor from Nain, voiced the need for the Moravian Church to apologize, as they ran the Nain Boarding School until 1973. Recalling the harrowing conditions and abuse he faced, he stated, “In the night time there, we had to be quiet. And in the sleeping bags and just on the bare floor. No mattress whatsoever. One blanket, you know. Seal skin sleeping bag, right? Nine months of the year.”

Tensions continue to rise as there are calls from the Nunatsiavut Government and the Innu Nation for Lisa Dempster, Minister of Indigenous and Labrador Affairs, to resign. This comes after an earlier apology made by Furey to the NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC) which is disputed by Nunatsiavut and Innu Nation as being non-Indigenous.

In a recent development, Dempster will not be attending the Nunatsiavut apologies due to duties in St. John’s. Addressing this, Kinney stressed that the timing of the apologies to Nunatsiavut survivors was not influenced by the previous apology to NunatuKavut survivors.

With this string of apologies, the residential school survivors and the communities affected are on a path to healing, seeking genuine acknowledgment and reparative actions to move forward.