Justin Trudeau finally meets with Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc chief

“I should have been with you.”

Trudeau praised Temlps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir for accepting him, calling his decision a “mistake.”

“After September 30, she could have decided to abandon me and the federal government… but yet she reached out to me and said, ‘Please come, listen, and learn, and we will take this path together,’ “

On Monday, during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in Kamloops, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald leaned over to the Prime Minister and said, “actions are what we need.”

It was a significant moment, as Archibald described after a ceremony dominated by speeches, including one in which Trudeau apologized for going to Tofino for a family vacation on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, despite invites to join the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc’s gathering.

Casimir publicly slammed Trudeau for disregarding her first invitation in her own speech.

“Instead, in the midst of truth-telling, cultural grounding, and sharing that happened as part of the remembrance of the very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a journalist discreetly informed us that the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was on holiday in Tofino,” she added. “In our neighbourhood, the shock, anger, sadness, and disbelief were obvious.”

Casimir reaffirmed the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc’s request that the government build a healing center in Kamloops to assist survivors and address the intergenerational trauma created by residential schools. The Nation also wishes to maintain the government’s support in ensuring the full disclosure of documents maintained by the Canadian government, notably student attendance records generated by the institutions that ran the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Every day, she noted, the airing of their experiences and sorrow on national news retraumatizes Indigenous peoples.

“We want you to be interested in us and to comprehend the situations in which we live,” she explained.

While Trudeau promised to collaborate on a healing centre and discover the answers required, those in attendance were skeptical that it would result in a substantial change.

“Frustration and fury, to be honest,” stated Shuswap National Tribal Council head Kukpi7 Wayne Christian in response to the Prime Minister’s visit. “Politicians have a habit of saying what people want to hear.”

Christian stated that the federal government’s legal policy on reconciliation must be changed, citing its application for compensation for Indigenous children involved in the child welfare system: “Stop stealing our land and our resources.”

Terry Teegee, Regional Chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, expressed gratitude to those who observed Trudeau’s pledges to give “a degree of responsibility” on Monday.

Casimir, too, stressed the need for taking action.

“I’m a firm believer that actions speak louder than words,” she remarked, before adding that she thought the prime minister had taken action on Monday. “On his son’s birthday, he flew over.”

Trudeau and Casimir exchanged gifts, including one for Trudeau’s 14-year-old son.

Since the spring, more than 1,300 unmarked gravesites on the grounds of former Canadian residential schools have been discovered using ground-penetrating radar. The first 215 were discovered back in May at Kamloop’s Indian Residential school.

During a news conference following Monday’s event, a man approached the microphone and urged Trudeau to express his heartfelt regret to his mother, a residential school victim, for not being in Kamloops on Sept. 30.

“I truly apologize,” Trudeau stated simply. “I should have been with you.”