Trudeau visits Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc to apologize for Truth and Reconciliation Day snub

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Kamloops, B.C., on Monday at the request of the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, to meet with local Indigenous leaders and survivors of the residential school system.

The trip comes after the Prime Minister ignored a pair of invitations to join the community on Sept. 30, the country’s first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a national holiday the Trudeau government created.

“For us it was to show his commitment to rectify the historical wrongs of residential schools, and to grieve with our residential school survivors,” said Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir, about the original invitations.

But instead of visiting Kamloops on Sept. 30, Trudeau used that day to fly from Ottawa to Tofino for a family vacation.

Kukpi7 Casimir said she had been disappointed because not only did Trudeau not respond to the initial requests to attend in person in September, he also didn’t send a video message which was presented as an option.

The creation of the holiday was one of 94 recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Report released in 2015, but it was only after the confirmation of 215 children’s unmarked graves at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School that the government acted on the recommendation.

On Monday, Trudeau was contrite for his previous absence, apologizing a number of times, including personally to two local elders at the request of one of their sons.

“I am here today to say that I wish I had been here a few weeks ago. I deeply regret it,” Trudeau said. “I am here today to take the hand extended by Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc and so many Indigenous Canadians across the country.”

Trudeau also heard directly from three women, all generations of the same family, who shared the ongoing impacts and trauma that residential school has had on their lives.

“We need more than words and broken promises Mr. Trudeau,” said Ashly Michel, the youngest of the women who spoke, while standing next to her own young child. “Use your power and privilege for good. And make this visit count.”

Kukpi7 Casimir urged Trudeau to make concrete promises, including committing to building a healing centre to deal with the trauma from the confirmation of the 215 unmarked graves.

“We will be working with you on what you’ve said the community needs,” Trudeau said. “From funding the healing centre to working with you on an elder’s lodge, and continuing to get answers and closure.”

As she listened to the Prime Minister, Kukpi7 Casimir made it clear she plans to hold him accountable for his promises.

“We seek to bring honour and dignity to children that were literally cast aside in unmarked burial sites. Prime Minister, now is the time to commit to the long road ahead.”

It was a familiar theme for the day, with a number of different Indigenous leaders telling Trudeau the time for talk is over and they expect him to follow through with his commitments.

It will now be up to Trudeau to demonstrate that he means what he said.