Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his regret during a visit to Tk’emlúps on Monday (Oct. 18), in an attempt to make amends for shirking an invitation to observe the first annual National Day of Truth and Reconciliation with the Tk’emlúps the Secwépemc band.
The day was marked with multiple speeches from dignitaries who called on Trudeau, in a face-to-face meeting in front of a crowd of people, for actions over words when it comes to reconciliation with First Nations.
“I am here today to say I wish I had been here a few weeks ago and I deeply regret it, but I am here today to take the hand extended,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister arrived at the Tk’emlúps Powwow Arbour at 11:30 a.m., emerging from a black van. He was met by media as he walked up to a table to address reporters alongside Tk’emlúps Kúkpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir.
Addressing reporters first, Casimir said Trudeau’s visit is “bittersweet,” noting she had hoped he would have been there on Sept. 30, noting the band had sent two written invitations and gave the option of submitting a pre-recorded message, all to no avail.
Casimir said there was “shock” and “anger” amongst band members to learn Trudeau was instead vacationing in Tofino. Casimir said Monday’s event was to “rectify a mistake.”
The prime minister spent about three hours at the arbour, twice taking questions from media and also participating in a public ceremony. He listened to speeches from a residential school survivor and intergenerational survivors, took in a hand drum and video presentation from Sk’elep School of Excellence students and heard from various Indigenous leaders who called on him for action.
Shuswap Nation Tribal Council Kúkpi7 Wayne Christian asked Trudeau to invite residential school survivors to meet with his cabinet on reconciliation — a suggestion Trudeau did not address.
“You need to do the hard work and your cabinet needs to do the hard work,” Christian said.
Trudeau is expected to name his new cabinet next week following the prime minister’s re- election — heading a minority government — on Sept. 20.
In his own speeches to the crowd, Trudeau addressed his mistakes, the atrocities of the residential school system and the work ahead on reconciliation. While he was scant on specifics, the prime minister did commit to working with First Nations on the tangible actions needed, specifically noting working on healing centres and elders lodges and committing resources to search for the locations of the remains of children from residential schools.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here on Sept. 30. It was a mistake and I understand it made a very difficult day even harder. You didn’t have to invite me back. I know that. Thank you for doing so. I am honoured to be with you in this moment,” Trudeau said.
Earlier that morning, he spoke with residential school survivors and visited the site, just meters from the arbour, where the band said in May it had found signs of 200 probable unmarked graves of children connected to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School through a ground-penetrating radar survey.
Casimir said it was “a long-awaited moment” to have Trudeau visit the site and thanked him for doing so.
The two exchanged gifts before the end of the ceremony — Trudeau giving Casimir a drum with a hummingbird painted on it as a symbol of friendship and unconditional love.
“They naturally have the ability to soothe and heal and, despite their small size, have the ability to fly great distances, symbolizing endurance and perseverance,” Trudeau said. “I can’t think of anything that symbolizes better the strength of this community and how we move forward together.”
Casimir reciprocated with a teddy bear, representing the missing Indigenous children, as well as a blanket for Trudeau’s son, who celebrated his 14th birthday on Monday.
“This is about our children, all of our children, and that is to show our gratitude having you today,” Casimir told Trudeau.
Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week