The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to go on a holiday on the same day Canada marked its first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation to honour lost children and survivors of residential schools.
Trudeau had received at least two invitations from Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, a British Columbia First Nation that discovered the remains of up to 215 children at a residential school site in Kamloops earlier this year, to spend the day with survivors and their families on Sept 30.
Instead, he took a trip to Tofino, B.C., where Global News filmed the prime minister walking on a beach.
In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson Sunday, National Chief RoseAnne Archibald of the Assembly of First Nations said that the government’s “words and actions have to be aligned.”
“When the prime minister talks about reconciliation, please, you know, don’t go on a holiday on the very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Participate in an event on the day, not the day before. That would be more in alignment with his real commitment to reconciliation.”
Archibald, who is the first woman to serve as AFN national chief, said the prime minister’s decision to not attend a ceremony hosted by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc was “very hurtful for survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors.”
Even though Trudeau participated in a ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa the night before the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, many Indigenous leaders have sharply criticized him for not attending events honouring survivors on the actual day.
On Saturday, Trudeau telephoned Tk’emlúps Nation Chief Roseanne Casimir and offered her an apology. In a statement to Global News Sunday, the prime minister’s office said he also discussed the path forward and told the chief that he hopes to visit her community soon.
Earlier this year, the federal government designated Sept. 30 as a federal statutory holiday to give Canadians a chance to reflect on the legacies of the residential school system, colonial policies and the cultural genocide of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children attended residential schools between the 1860s and 1996. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission documented stories from survivors and families and issued a report in 2015.
The report details mistreatment at the schools, including the emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children, and at least 4,100 deaths.
Trudeau has yet to visit the site of the former Kamloops residential school, where as many as 215 bodies were discovered earlier this year at a burial site near the school.
Archibald, who belongs to the Taykwa Tagamou Nation in Ontario, urged Trudeau to visit Casimir, her council and community.
“That would have been the ideal place for him … as we marked the very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.”
In a tweet Sunday evening, Archibald added a call for media outlets to give as much coverage to survivors’ stories as they did on Trudeau’s trip to Tofino.
Let’s remember that Truth and Reconciliation is about Survivors and those children who died in the institutions of assimilation and genocide,” said Archibald.
Therefore, I ask media outlets to give as much time to Survivors’ stories as they are giving to the Prime Minister’s behaviour on September 30.”
–With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ David Lao
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.
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