Trudeau finally meets indigenous leaders after snubbing invitation

October 19, 2021 - 18:14

TEHRAN - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has met with indigenous leaders at a First Nations community around two weeks after he went away on holiday, missing a day the country designated to remember and honor residential schools victims and survivors.

In a previous statement, he said, “traveling on September 30 was a mistake, and I regret it. This first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was a time for Indigenous people and non-Indigenous alike to reflect and connect, think about the past but also focus on the future”

The First Nation says, “we are not interested in apologies that don’t lead to institutional and widespread change. Reconciliation starts with action. Real action and change is needed that supports healing, the revitalization of our language, culture, traditions, and ways of knowing”.

In June, parliament announced the new holiday to ensure a public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools. The Canadian leader’s decision to take a vacation has not gone down well with indigenous leaders. 

Trudeau had been invited to attend a ceremony on October 30 at the first nation in British Columbia, where unmarked children’s graves were discovered earlier this year but snubbed the invitation. 

Indigenous leaders criticized Trudeau for failing to live up to his pledge to make reconciliation a priority. Last month, Trudeau, 49, returned to power in a closely contested election but fell short of winning a majority, leaving some asking if his attendance was just a PR stunt. 

Before the Premier’s trip, the First Nation did warn “the focus of this visit needs to be on the real issues of reconciliation, not a media event to compensate for his lack of participation on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation,”

Chief Rosanne Casimir called the unexpected news that Trudeau was vacationing a gut punch to the community, saying, “the shock, anger, sorrow, and disbelief was palpable in our community, and it rippled throughout the world.”

Trudeau told the community in British Columbia, “I am here today to say I wish I had been here a few weeks ago, and I deeply regret it,” adding he wanted to extend his hand to all First Nations “who have every reason in the world to feel pessimistic and bleak about the future and instead choose hope.” 

“I wish I had been here a few weeks ago, and I deeply regret it.”Trudeau apologized for going on a family vacation to Tofino, British Columbia, on September 30 instead of visiting the indigenous community that day. He has admitted that it was a mistake to fly to the West Coast on holiday on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, honoring the lost children and survivors of indigenous schools.

The decision to travel on the holiday “was a mistake, and I regret it,” Trudeau told reporters. “I’m focused on making this right.”

Trudeau flew to Tofino, British Columbia, with his family on Thursday after his own government in June had designated October 30 a federal holiday to underscore the legacy of the so-called residential school system.

The discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at former residential schools earlier this year reopened the deep wounds left by the European colonization of Canada and the subsequent efforts to assimilate indigenous cultures. Canada has been rocked by the institutions’ disclosures that were part of an abusive system that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide” in 2015.

On May 27, the First Nation in British Columbia said it had discovered the unmarked graves of an estimated 215 children near the site of the former Catholic-run Kamloops Indian Residential School. 

Other discoveries have been:
Marieval Indian Residential School - Cowessess First Nation, Saskatchewan: On June 24, the Cowessess First Nation said it had discovered the unmarked graves of an estimated 751 people near the site of the former Catholic-run Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. 

St. Eugene’s Mission School - First Nation, British Columbia: On June 30, the Lower Kootenay Band said the First Nation discovered the remains of an estimated 182 people, including an unknown number of children, in 2020 near the site of the former Catholic-run St. Eugene’s Mission School near Cranbrook, British Columbia.

Brandon Indian Residential School - Sioux Valley Dakota Nation, Manitoba: Since 2012, research has been conducted to identify people buried at three sites near Manitoba’s former Brandon Indian Residential School. Both the Methodist and United churches ran. Sioux Valley Dakota Nation has said an estimated 104 people are buried at those sites, about 78 of whom are accounted for in death records.

Muskowekwan Indian Residential School - Muskowekwan First Nation, Saskatchewan: Bones started turning up near the site of the former Catholic-run Muskowekwan Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan during water-line work in the early 1990s. The Muskowekwan First Nation, in partnership with two universities, found 35 unmarked graves in 2018, and further searches are being carried out.

Trudeau said the federal government would support community resources, including a healing center. But he declined to say whether the government would appeal a federal court ruling that
upheld a previous Human Rights Tribunal decision that ordered individual compensation for indigenous children and caregivers.

On Wednesday, Canada’s Federal Court upheld a human rights tribunal ruling ordering the Canadian government to compensate indigenous children and families in foster care for suffering discrimination. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in 2016 that the federal government allocated less funds for child and family services of indigenous people than for non-indigenous people, pushing more indigenous children into foster care.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government appealed the tribunal’s follow-up order in 2019 that Ottawa pays each affected child C$40,000 ($31,500), the maximum allowed under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The tribunal also said that with some exceptions, parents or grandparents of the children would also be eligible for compensation.

The tribunal’s ruling could cost the federal government billions of dollars. Federal Court Justice Paul Favel rejected the government’s appeal and encouraged the two parties to continue negotiating.
“The parties must decide whether they will continue to sit beside the trail or move forward in this spirit of reconciliation,” Favel wrote, referring to an indigenous parable about a man who sits beside a trail for so long that it grows over and he loses his way.

Trudeau’s government could appeal the court’s decision. His government has argued in the past that although the human rights tribunal was correct in finding discrimination in the system, it overreached by ordering compensation. The government is reviewing the decision, and more information “will be forthcoming,” Marc Miller, minister for indigenous services, said in an emailed statement, “Canada remains committed to compensating First Nations children who were removed from their families and communities,” he added.

Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society that brought the original complaint, said the ruling was “a complete rejection of all the government’s spurious arguments and a complete win for kids.”

The Canadian government’s legal battles with indigenous people have come under increased scrutiny after hundreds of unmarked graves were discovered at the sites of former residential schools. Since May, hundreds more unmarked burial sites have been found. 

The institutions operated between 1831 and 1996 and removed about 150,000 indigenous children from their families. Many were subjected to abuse, rape, and malnutrition at schools in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide.”

The system to bring the indigenous people of the land (most of them children) to Christian residential schools was run on behalf of the federal government.

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