N.L. 'willing to act,' taking direction from Indigenous leaders on examining former residential schools

·3 min read
Premier Andrew Furey says he will 'take direction' from Indigenous leaders regarding examining Newfoundland and Labrador's former residential school sites.  (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
Premier Andrew Furey says he will 'take direction' from Indigenous leaders regarding examining Newfoundland and Labrador's former residential school sites. (Mark Quinn/CBC - image credit)
Premier Andrew Furey says he will 'take direction' from Indigenous leaders regarding examining Newfoundland and Labrador's former residential school sites.
Premier Andrew Furey says he will 'take direction' from Indigenous leaders regarding examining Newfoundland and Labrador's former residential school sites. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador has signalled that it is open to having conversations about examining former residential sites, but will be taking direction from Indigenous leaders, according to Premier Andrew Furey.

The discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. has sparked calls for governments across the country to investigate other locations.

On Tuesday, inside the House of Assembly, NDP MHA for Labrador West Jordan Brown asked Premier Andrew Furey if he will commit to an immediate review of all residential schools and orphanage sites in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Lisa Dempster answered.

Dempster told reporters after question period she spent Sunday speaking with indigenous leaders about the discovery in B.C., and said the province is willing to survey those sites, but there hasn't been a formal request.

"We're not closing doors to this. We need to just see where the people most impacted, what direction they want to take," Dempster told reporters after question period.

When asked directly by reporters if he would commit to investigating former residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, Furey didn't say, but noted he'll be having a call with Indigenous leaders later this week, something he said takes place each week.

Dozens of people turned out, with only a few hours notice, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Monday to mourn after the remains of hundreds of children were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Dozens of people turned out, with only a few hours notice, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on Monday to mourn after the remains of hundreds of children were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.(Regan Burden/CBC)

"I'll take my direction from them," Furey said.

"It's an incredibly sad, tragic day in Canadian history and Newfoundland and Labrador is not divorced from that. We have a responsibility amongst us all to reflect on the tragedies in our own residential schools and orphanages."

Furey said whatever actions come up during the call, the province is "willing to act," and there will be an update this week.

Meanwhile, Furey said the province is still planning to apologize to residential school survivors, something former premier Dwight Ball committed to in 2017 but never fulfilled.

Furey said it's something he tried to do "immediately after taking over," but in speaking with Indigenous leaders the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a "major barrier" which would have diminished the moment. Furey said waiting a few extra months, or even a year, will allow the apology to be done correctly.

"This is such an important apology, and one that I'm willing to make," he said.

Also on Tuesday Furey said the province is "very hopeful" the inquiry into Innu children in the Newfoundland and Labrador child care system will begin this year. Money was set aside for the inquiry in this year's budget.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

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