Keeping flags at half-mast for the children whose remains have been found at former residential school sites is a matter of honouring the little ones, AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said Tuesday.
Her comments come after Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said last week that Canadians “should be proud to put our flag back up.”
The flag has remained at half-mast on the Peace Tower and other federal buildings for nearly three months to mark the finding of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools.
“I read somewhere that if we kept the flags half-mast every day for every child that we have discovered so far, that the flag would remain at half mast for something like 11 to 17 years,” Archibald said.
“So I think that the longer the flags remain at half mast, really honours these children, honours our little ones, honours our families, honours our communities.”
The AFN issued its election priorities on Tuesday, including strong action on the tragedy of the unmarked graves and a priority on creating a healing foundation for the survivors of residential schools and those affected by the intergenerational trauma they caused.
The flags were originally lowered at the end of May, after ground-penetrating radar found what was described as the remains of more than 200 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Shortly afterwards, 751 more unmarked graves were discovered by the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan at another former residential school site.
Residential “schools” were schools in name only, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) final report published in 2015. Children were ripped from their homes and placed in these institutions, where they’d be systematically stripped of their culture and, in many cases, subjected to horrific abuses.
More than 38,000 of the children sent to residential schools were subjected to sexual and serious physical abuse, according to the TRC.
As an outpouring of grief enveloped the country in the wake of the discovery of mass and unmarked graves at former residential school sites, calls for action also emerged.
Beyond calling for funds for the search of additional residential school sites, protestors also called for buildings named after the architects of residential schools to be changed, and statues moved to less prominent locations or even torn down altogether.
At the time, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau condemned the toppling of statues. He has, however, been supportive of changing the names of buildings over the namesake’s involvement in residential schools. Trudeau renamed Langevin Block building, which sits across from Parliament Hill, in 2017 due to Sir Hector-Louis Langevin’s involvement with residential schools.
When pressed Tuesday on whether he’d change the name of the Langevin Block building back, should he become prime minister, O’Toole did not directly answer the question.
“I think we have to learn from our history and try and make sure we commit today and in the future to the path of reconciliation,” O’Toole said.
As part of their 2021 platform, Conservatives say they’ll fund investigations of all former residential schools in Canada, will give proper resources to honour those discovered, will provide resources for educating Canadians on the history of residential schools and will build a national monument in Ottawa honouring residential school survivors.
Just before the election was called, the Liberals committed $321 million in new funding for programs that address some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to help search burial sites at former residential schools, and to support survivors.
The Liberals said the new money will also help communities manage the sites, provide mental health, cultural and emotional services and will help build a national monument in Ottawa honouring the victims.
The NDP promise to also fund gravesite searches and establish memorials, and fund the maintenance, commemoration, reburial and protection of residential school cemeteries according to the wishes of Indigenous families, residential school survivors and communities.
On top of that, the NDP promise to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the system, will require churches and governments to hand over any records that could assist in the investigations, and will fund community-driven solutions for healing.
When asked about how the Bloc Québécois plans to address Indigenous issues, a party spokesperson directed Global News to a June 21 news release with comments from Leader Yves-François Blanchet, which pointed to the federal government’s responsibility to “provide the financial needs required, so that truth can be revealed on these sites,” though offered no clear details.
— with files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea, The Canadian Press