Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to Ottawa on Monday after a vacation in Tofino, B.C., that generated criticism from Indigenous leaders and opposition parties because it began on Thursday, which was the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
On the weekend, Mr. Trudeau spoke to Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir to offer an apology, according to Alex Wellstead, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office. The PMO provided no details on the nature of the conversation between them.
When asked Monday if Mr. Trudeau would be issuing a public apology about his decision to vacation on the national day, which honours those who attended residential schools, the PMO said it had nothing more to add beyond the comments to Ms. Casimir.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was created by Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government. He has maintained since first forming government in 2015 that that his relationship with Indigenous peoples is a top priority.
Last week, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation said the Prime Minister did not respond to an invitation to attend a ceremony near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, where about 200 unmarked graves were located after a radar search earlier this year. Mr. Trudeau is planning to visit Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc soon, Mr. Wellstead said Sunday.
Lynne Groulx, the chief executive officer of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said Mr. Trudeau needs to offer a broader apology to Canadians. His trip clearly “missed the mark,” she added, and was a serious error in judgment on a day that many Canadians spent reflecting on the legacy of the country’s residential schools. Indigenous children were abused at the institutions, and thousands of them died while attending them.
“I don’t think there’s any excuse for it,” Ms. Groulx said. “There’s thousands and thousands of survivors. He needs to speak to the people.”
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, which represents the interests of Métis, southern Inuit, status Indians and non-status Indians, also said Monday that Mr. Trudeau should issue a more general apology for vacationing during the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The Prime Minister attended a reconciliation event on Parliament Hill on the evening before the national day and then flew to Tofino. His public itinerary did not say he was going to the popular B.C. tourist spot. Instead, it said he was conducting private meetings in Ottawa. The PMO later said Mr. Trudeau spoke to eight survivors of residential schools on Thursday.
Mr. Trudeau has previously visited Tofino, where residents usually leave him alone on the beach. But while the controversy swirled around him this weekend, locals expressed disappointment that he did not attend any events there to mark the national day.
Ms. Groulx said it is “baffling” that nobody on the Prime Minister’s staff alerted him to the fact it would be wrong in the eyes of Indigenous communities for him to travel.
Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national organization that aims to protect and advance the rights and interests of Inuit in Canada, said Monday that he did not want to give an opinion on what the Prime Minister should be doing on any given day.
He said the reaction to the Prime Minister’s trip shows “Canadians expect more from politicians in regards to reconciliation,” and that they will hold leaders to account for not living up to those expectations.
“I hope that in future years this particular day will be met with a real connection with Indigenous leadership and survivors and their families that is a shared path,” he said. “That’s really what we have been asking for all along in this reconciliation journey, is a shared path.”
Mr. Obed called the public reaction an “evolution,” adding that he does not believe anyone would have been concerned about what a politician did on a national day of remembrance for Indigenous peoples even five or six years ago.
“More and more Canadians are understanding these big issues, like residential school,” Mr. Obed said.
He added that he hopes this incident with Mr. Trudeau has “positive ramifications for the priority of the reconciliation work that is front of us.”
With reports from Justine Hunter in Tofino, B.C., and Bill Curry in Ottawa
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