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Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey addressed members of the NunatuKavut Community Council in a gymnasium in Cartwright, N.L.Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press

In a small gymnasium Friday in southern Labrador, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey delivered a solemn apology to the region’s survivors of residential schools.

The apology to the NunatuKavut Community Council came nearly six years after it was first promised and was met with a standing ovation from the audience, many of whom were survivors or their descendants.

“We are sorry,” Mr. Furey told audience members, who wore orange shirts to mark this year’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. “We are sorry that former students experienced neglect, abuse, hardship and discrimination at the hand of people and institutions who were entrusted to provide care and nurturing.”

Applause filled the room as NunatuKavut President Todd Russell embraced the premier when he concluded his speech.

“I felt the sincerity in your words,” Mr. Russell said. “And I hope that the former students and their families have also felt it.”

Mr. Furey made the apology Friday in Cartwright, N.L., where the Lockwood boarding school operated until 1964. It was one of five dormitory-style residential schools that had operated in the province before the last one closed down in 1980.

The Lockwood school was run by the International Grenfell Association, founded by the British medical missionary Sir Wilfred Grenfell. Others were run by missions from the Moravian Church.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew to Labrador in 2017 to offer a federal apology after former prime minister Stephen Harper omitted the region from his apology in 2008. His Conservative government argued that Ottawa didn’t oversee those schools, as they were established before Newfoundland and Labrador became part of Canada in 1949.

The federal apology prompted former Newfoundland and Labrador premier Dwight Ball to promise a provincial apology in 2017, but his plans to deliver it in 2020 were thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Furey told reporters on Thursday that he intends to work with the province’s other Indigenous groups to deliver each of them an apology tailored to their histories and experiences. He noted that the Innu Nation in Labrador did not accept Mr. Trudeau’s apology, since it did not include the abuse suffered by Innu children in Roman Catholic day schools and in the homes of priests and missionaries.

Both the Innu Nation and the Inuit Nunatsiavut government, in northern Labrador, have condemned Mr. Furey’s choice to apologize first to the NunatuKavut Community Council, as they do not recognize the council’s claims of Inuit identity.

The NunatuKavut Community Council says it represents about 6,000 Inuit in south and central Labrador.

Mr. Furey’s apology to the members gathered in Cartwright included a promise that the province’s history of residential schools will be neither forgotten nor repeated.

“Children in these schools were physically separated from their communities, their traditions and their culture,” he said. “We understand that these actions disconnected children from their Inuit culture. For many of you, that loss was severe. Many of these impacts are still felt across NunatuKavut today.”

He was presented with a painted drum by the Sandwich Bay Residential School Drummers, a group composed of NunatuKavut members who attended the Lockwood school, and descendants of former students.

Mr. Russell said he hoped the apology would be a turning point along a path to reconciliation.

“Today is about healing,” he said. “Today we are here as a testament to the strength and resilience of former students.”

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