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When he did, he said Canada was “ready to partner” on reconciliation.
“We will be there with as much as is necessary to be able to get closure, to move forward right across the country.”
Kukpi7 Casimir said the community seeks “peaceful resolution” for past and current harms by bringing honour and dignity to Le Estcwéy̓, the missing children.
Every day, she added, Indigenous peoples are retraumatized by the sharing of their stories and pain on national news.
“We want you to be interested in us, and to understand more fully the conditions under which we live,” she said in her remarks on Monday.
“So long as what we consider ‘justice’ is withheld from us, so long will that dissatisfaction and unrest exist among us. We will continue to struggle to better ourselves.”
Ottawa must collaborate on a clear path forward for healing, said Kukpi7 Casimir, beginning with funding for a healing centre for the community.
She also called on the federal government and the Catholic Church to provide access to all documents related to the residential school system, and commit to meaningful action to address its harms.
Trudeau said Monday there’s “no question” the federal government will compensate survivors, and that Ottawa aims to ensure Indigenous children are no longer removed from their cultures and communities.
He also committed to permanently lowering Canada’s flags to half-mast on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The prime minister had spoken with some residential school survivors by phone the night before, and attended a ceremony on Parliament Hill, but later apologized for the trip, calling the decision a “mistake.”
“For all of us, it was the shock, the anger and sorrow, and disbelief was palpable in our community and rippled around the world,” said Kukpi7 Casimir on Monday.
“Today is about making some positive steps and rectifying some missed steps.”
Again on Monday, Trudeau said he “deeply” regretted that choice and has “many regrets” from that day.
“I am deeply grateful to Kukpi7 Casimir for having welcomed me here today,” he said during the press conference.
“After Sept. 30, she could have chosen to turn her back on me and the federal government … and yet she reached out and said, ‘Please come, and listen and learn, and we will walk this path together.'”
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc sent shockwaves of anger and grief across the country in May when it announced the remains of 215 children had been found in an unmarked burial site at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
Other First Nations searched their own former residential school sites with ground-penetrating radar, revealing more than 1,000 other children had been buried. The Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan alone located 751 children.
In the months that followed, Trudeau announced Canada would celebrate its first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — six years after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission first called for one.
After his trip to Tofino, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc released a statement saying it wasn’t interested in “apologies that don’t lead to institutional and widespread change.”
Asked whether he thought the First Nation accepted his apology, Trudeau responded:
“Words do matter and with an apology, recognizing the harm that was caused is an important first step towards healing, towards restitution, towards doing right. But it’s not just about words, it’s about actions.”
Terry Teegee, Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, said he acknowledged and respected the commitments made by the prime minister on Monday, but Indigenous peoples are beyond “theatrics.”
“We need to see action, and whether it’s providing records for our Indigenous children that are yet to be found or moving ahead for our resources for healing centres,” he explained.
“We are on a healing journey and it’s not just for Indigenous people. It’s for this country. We see a better future for all us.”
Canada’s residential school system was in place from the late 1800s to the mid-1990s and sought to “eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development” of Indigenous children, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The state and church-run institutions forcibly removed more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children from their families and placed them in schools where many were physically, sexually and spiritually abused by those charged with their care. Many were also starved as part of scientific experiments on the effects of malnutrition.
Thousands died in the harrowing system of assimilation, leading to intergenerational trauma that has had a deep and lasting impact on survivors, their children, relations and communities.
In 2015, the TRC found Canada guilty of “cultural genocide,” and to this day, governments have failed in many ways to meaningfully repair or compensate for the lasting harm.
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.