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

Ian Austennov, New York Times, November. 24, 2017

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a broad and emotional apology on Friday to indigenous people in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, where for much of the 20th century indigenous children were compelled to attend boarding schools that separated them from their families and cultures and, in many cases, subjected them to abuse.

In addition to the apology, the Canadian government settled a class-action lawsuit and will provide about 50 million Canadian dollars to about 900 former students of the five schools, which endured until 1980.

The decision came after a decade-long controversy over the federal government’s responsibility.

In 2008, Mr. Trudeau’s predecessor, Stephen Harper, apologized to indigenous people in the rest of Canada for a residential school program the federal government operated from the 19th century until 1996. A national Truth and Reconciliation Commission later condemned that system as a form of “cultural genocide.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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