Prize money from book awards and royalties is helping a beloved 47-year-old magazine and archive in Labrador compile lists of people who were forced to attend the region’s residential schools.
Them Days magazine has issued a call to its followers and subscribers asking them to fill out a form detailing when and where they attended a residential school. Respondents can also provide information about their experiences and list names of people they lived with in the dorms.
It’s all part of an effort to piece together the history of residential schools in Labrador, says Them Days editor Aimee Chaulk.
“I’m hoping that it will add to our knowledge of the schools, because so much has been unspoken,” Chaulk said in a recent interview. “I think even just knowing who went there will help us acknowledge what happened.”
Newfoundland and Labrador was home to five dormitory-style residential schools, the last of which closed in 1980. Their survivors were shut out of the 2008 federal apology for residential facilities in Canada, with the Conservative government at the time arguing Ottawa was not responsible for their establishment.
Four of the schools were in Labrador and one was in St. Anthony, on Newfoundland’s Northern Peninsula. They were operated by the Newfoundland government, which was not part of Canada until 1949, by the International Grenfell Association and by missionaries from the Protestant Moravian church.
Their omission from the federal apology is why Newfoundland and Labrador’s dormitories are rarely included in national listings or on maps of the country’s former residential schools. It’s also part of the reason why there’s still so much that’s not known about the province’s residential school system, including the people forced to attend, Chaulk said.
“It still kind of feels like we’re an asterisk,” she added.
In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., to deliver a federal apology for the abuse, cultural loss and neglect endured by Innu, Inuit and NunatuKavut children at the schools. The apology only applied to the years after the province joined Canada in 1949, “so anyone who went to the schools before 1949 was left out of that,” Chaulk said.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government also promised an apology in 2017, but its plans have been delayed, most recently by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trudeau’s apology was part of a $50-million settlement agreement, which included the hiring of Memorial University adjunct Prof. Andrea Procter to compile stories from survivors and document the history of the schools.
Procter published her findings in a 2020 book, “A Long Journey: Residential Schools in Labrador and Newfoundland,” and she has donated all royalties and prize money – including a $1,000 Atlantic Book Award win last year – to Them Days. She said the advisory committee who helped her with the book came up with the idea of creating a database of former residential school students.
“It was their wish that people be named as a way of commemorating them and retaining their memories,” Procter said in an interview Monday.
Them Days, Procter said, was an obvious choice to lead the effort: the magazine has been piecing together Labrador’s history since 1975, and it’s well-loved and respected throughout the region.
Chaulk said that so far, the response has been positive. She published the call for names and information in the last issue, and she sent out a notice to all of the publication’s subscribers. There’s also a notice on the magazine’s website about the online form.
“The people who have sent them in, a lot of them have made little notes saying, ‘Thank you so much for doing this,”’ she said. “We just want to respect everyone’s experience.”
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