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Justin Trudeau Apologizes to Newfoundland and Labrador Residential School Survivors

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Labrador Friday morning to issue a formal apology to Newfoundland and Labrador residential school survivors.

Following moving opening ceremonies, speeches and performances, Trudeau took the stage at the Lawrence O'Brien Arts Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to present his apology on behalf of the federal government and all Canadians.

Thousands of Indigenous children were once taken to five residential schools in N.L. Removed from their communities, these children were punished for speaking their native tongue, prohibited from practicing their culture, and unable to see their families.

In the 19th century, the Canadian government decided to take responsibility for educating Indigenous children. They created “aggressive assimilation,” which was a policy to be taught at residential schools, which were church-run, government-funded institutions.

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Across Canada, about 150,000 Indigenous children were removed from their communities and placed in these schools.

In 2008, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology to Canadian residential school survivors that did not include these N.L. survivors, as the residential schools they attended were not established specifically by the Canadian government.

Regardless of how they were set up, there were, in fact, five residential schools in N.L., where the Indigenous children were taken.

Trudeau addressed the suffering and trauma these children had to endure. Many were neglected, not properly fed or housed, and physically, psychologically, and sexually abused.

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"The treatment of Indigenous children in residential schools is a dark and shameful chapter in our country's history," Trudeau said in his speech. "For all of you — we are sincerely sorry."

Last year, a $50-million settlement from the Trudeau government was reached for about 1,000 residential school survivors in N.L. These were students not included in the settlement and apology from Harper in 2008.

Trudeau said that an apology was long overdue and that more needs to be done. He spoke of Canada’s history and the hard truths that must be confronted as a nation.

"Saying that we are sorry today is not enough. It will not undo the harm that was done to you. It will not bring back the languages and traditions you lost. It will not take away the isolation and vulnerability you felt when you separated from your families, communities and cultures," he said.

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“It’s time for Canada to acknowledge its history for what it is: flawed, imperfect and unfinished,” he said.

He ended his address looking to the future.

"While we cannot forget the history that created these residential schools, we must not allow it to define the future," Trudeau said. "We call upon all Canadians to take part in the next chapter, a time when Indigenous and non-Indigenous people build the future we want together.”

Inuk residential school survivor Toby Obed was welcomed on to the stage today to tumultuous applause after Trudeau spoke, to accept the apology on behalf of residential school survivors.

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“We got it! We did it!” he called to the crowd before taking the microphone.

Obed welcomed the prime minister to Labrador and talked about how the Indigenous community had felt left out, forgotten and abandoned after Harper’s exclusive apology.

Through tears, but with great encouragement from the crowd, Obed delivered his address.

“There is so much work left to be done,” he said, “But now, together, we can start.”

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“Because I come from a patient and forgiving culture, I think it is proper for us to accept the apology from the Government of Canada,” he said, "Even though some of them may not want me to."

The Innu Nation did not attend the event as they will not be accepting the prime minister’s apology.

The ceremony was meant to be the start of a better relationship between N.L.’s Indigenous people and the government, but the Innu Nation feels that more than this apology is needed.

“The truth of what happened to the past generations of Innu has never been fully documented and we can’t deal with this in bits and pieces,” said Chief Eugene Hart of the Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation in a statement on Thursday.

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