In an act of incredible forgiveness, the community of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation will host Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on a visit to the gravesites of at least 200 Indigenous children. The Prime Minister’s Office has confirmed he’ll be there.
This is the beautiful thing about so many Indigenous Peoples: No matter what crap is thrown at us – from genocidal laws and policies aimed to extinguish us, to racists yelling for us to get off the sidewalk – we rise. Our existence is our resistance. That isn’t just a slogan. It is the truth.
That Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir and the band council are willing to extend their hands, once again – after he had declined their offers to attend events for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation not once but twice – is astounding.
It’s even more astounding given the embarrassing situation that the Prime Minister got himself into last Thursday, instead of visiting.
The Prime Minister said on Wednesday that he “regrets” the decision to head out on vacation in Tofino, B.C., and spend some free time walking the beach with his wife, Sophie, all while many in Canada – Indigenous and not – mourned, reflected and wore their orange T-shirts.
“Regret” is not the best choice of words. I, for instance, regretted not getting a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks the other day. I know I’d feel much more than regret if I was caught vacationing on the very first statutory holiday that my own government passed into law, especially if my own public itinerary claimed that I would be in “private meetings” in Ottawa instead.
Does he actually think Indigenous people are still buying his empty proclamations?
At that Wednesday press conference, he told reporters that he called Kúkpi7 Casimir to apologize. That must have been quite the phone call.
The Prime Minister, after all, had a lot of grovelling to do. After the discovery of unmarked graves of little children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School, Mr. Trudeau hasn’t bothered to show up to the community to express his remorse personally. The unspeakable discovery of the bones of children seems like the kind of thing a leader should drop pretty much everything for, and yet he did not.
I hope he apologized for that, too.
Former senator Murray Sinclair has said that when he was writing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, he did so with the intention of “arming the reasonable.” After recording and listening to the truths shared by the thousands of witnesses and survivors of the Indian Residential School system in Canada, he and the commissioners created the 94 Calls to Action. Those calls were a gift to Canada: a road map for how this country could go about healing its wounds, setting out and starting to walk on the right path, and evolving away from the colonial policies, bureaucracies and institutions that have perpetuated what that commission declared a genocide against Indigenous Peoples.
And yet little more than one dozen of those calls have been completed.
If Mr. Trudeau truly wants to apologize, his government should implement all the calls in full as he promised six years ago, when they were released.
While he’s at it, he might want to show up to Kamloops ready to work. The community needs funding for a healing centre: a place where all of the B.C. First Nations, plus those from Alberta and even the United States, can go to and find solace after so much generational grief. And the Prime Minister better not forget to bring those attendance records that Kúkpi7 Casimir has been asking for. She wants full disclosure of all records that Ottawa and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate have in their possession, so they can identify the names of children who went to and may have died at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.
And I hope he responds to residential school survivor Garnet Angeconeb.
At the end of last month, I visited Mr. Angeconeb at the Meno Ya Win Health Centre in Sioux Lookout, Ont. I learned that despite his failing health, he had just returned from a ceremony in which an orange flag, designed by him and other survivors at the request of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, was raised.
He did that work, even though he lives in a country that has failed him his entire life. And several days ago Mr. Angeconeb also took the time to write the Prime Minister a letter to let him know that the beach vacation was an ignorant mistake.
Mr. Trudeau, that’s the right phrase to use for what happened – a word far more accurate than mere “regret.” I hope Mr. Angeconeb gets the apology he deserves, too.
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