Trudeau visits First Nation, apologizes for skipping invitation on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc announced the discovery of around 200 possible unmarked graves in May
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc Nation on Monday and apologized in person for failing to respond to an invitation to join the community for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir and Trudeau held a joint news conference and ceremony near the site of a former residential school where unmarked graves were discovered this spring.
"When we imagined welcoming Prime Minister Trudeau to our community, it was envisioned that it would be an opportunity for him to interact with a wide array of survivors, intergenerational survivors and many different First Nations as part of September the 30th, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation," Casimir said during her opening remarks today.
Casimir said Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc sent two letters of invitation to Trudeau's office before Sept. 30.
The nation was in the midst of its ceremony when it learned that Trudeau had instead travelled with his family for a vacation in Tofino, B.C.
"The shock, anger and sorrow and disbelief was palpable in our community," Casimir said. "Today is about making some positive steps forward and rectifying a mistake."
Trudeau, seated directly to the right of Casimir, spun a pen between his fingers as she spoke. He later apologized for failing to attend the ceremony.
"It was a mistake and I understand that it made a very difficult day even harder," he said. "You didn't have to invite me back, I know that. Thank you for doing so."
WATCH | Trudeau apologizes for not visiting Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc on Sept. 30
Trudeau said he also met with community leaders in the morning before the news conference.
"This morning we had an important and necessary conversation about how we, not just as Canadians but as an entire country, move forward given the reality of residential schools," Trudeau said.
The Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc announced in the spring the discovery of roughly 200 possible unmarked burial sites at Kamloops Indian Residential School.
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Casimir made three requests of the federal government on the First Nation's behalf during her meeting with Trudeau: "full, unfettered access" to student attendance records from residential schools; funding for a new healing centre for the survivors of residential schools; and assistance for further surveys to search for unmarked burial sites.
Trudeau did not announce any new funding commitments or plans. He said later that his government is working through many requests from First Nations hoping to search for graves.
"We will be there with as much as is necessary to get closure and to move forward right across the country," he said
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Survivors of residential schools and intergenerational trauma later spoke as Trudeau and Indigenous leaders looked on.
"When I left that school up there, I didn't know how to love myself. I didn't know how to love my children," said Charlotte Manual.
RoseAnne Archibald, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, also attended Trudeau's visit. She repeated her call for an independent inquiry into Canada's historic residential school system.
"These are very difficult times for our survivors and our intergenerational trauma survivors. Old hurts and trauma are being triggered as we recover our little ones," Archibald said. "Someone must be charged for the death of our children."
Earlier this summer, Trudeau visited Cowessess Nation in Saskatchewan, where about 750 possible unmarked graves were discovered at a former residential school in June.
Trudeau signed an agreement during that visit to turn over some child welfare responsibilities to Cowessess.