With flags lowered on buildings across Newfoundland and Labrador in memory of the 215 children whose remains were found at a residential school in British Columbia, one Labrador MHA says the scars of that school system continue to affect the lives of the Inuit in her district, and need to be addressed.
Flags outside Confederation Building, along with some city and town halls from St. John's to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, are at half-mast, following the discovery of the mass grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation.
The remains have prompted an outpouring of grief, condemnation and calls for action across the country. Like many, Torngat Mountains MHA Lela Evans said she was shocked at the news — but only momentarily.
"In reality, the shock wore off and I wasn't shocked. Because there's so many wrongs," Evans told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.
Indigenous leaders in B.C. have said the 215 children are likely a slim fraction of those who died while the residential schools were in operation. The Kamloops school closed in 1978.
Evans echoed that sentiment Monday, saying history will never be able to fully account for the tragedy, and as people express their outrage for what happened in Kamloops, they should also sit with that awareness.
"We really will never know the true extent of it, and I think it's important for people to know that," Evans said.
That history has carried through to the present, she said.
"We can't deny the systemic racism that existed, that perpetrated this… It's not gone away," she said. "It still exists. And until we have not only equality, but equity, in our communities and for our Indigenous people and other minorities, there will be no real reconciliation."
Trauma in Labrador
The trauma of residential schools is readily apparent in Evans's district, she said. Her parents and grandparents called them "boarding schools," she said, with many in her hometown of Makkovik sent to one of five residential schools that operated in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Those children came home each summer, Evans said, "and they would tell their parents what was done to them, and what happened, and all the wrongs … and the parents couldn't do anything to fix it."
There are also stories of children not coming back, she said, from the residential school in St. Anthony.
As a child, Evans said she didn't understand the behaviour of some adults in her community, which she has since come to realize as the lasting effects of the schools' trauma.
"Our children grew up … and a lot of them didn't have the skills or ability. A lot of them were victimized. A lot of them were broken emotionally and mentally. And now we see several generations of that trauma," she said.
That trauma can be seen, she said, seeping into issues around housing and food insecurity. Until systemic racism is addressed, such problems will continue to repeat themselves, she added.
"I keep saying that as my role as MHA, and people get tired of it. But for true reconciliation we have to help Indigenous people get over the harms done in past generations," she said.
A national Indian Residential School crisis line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Emotional and crisis referral services can be accessed by calling the 24-hour line: 1-866-925-4419.