KAMLOOPS, B.C. — The Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "missed an opportunity" to show his commitment to the survivors of residential schools by not replying to its invitations to take part in an event marking the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
A statement on Thursday from the First Nation in Kamloops, B.C., said the lack of a response to two letters was "an added insult," but it looks forward to welcoming Trudeau in the community later this month.
It added Trudeau's presence would have shown the world his personal commitment to "enacting real change and rectifying the historical wrongs" of the residential school system, and to personally support grieving Indian Residential School survivors.
It says the Canadian government created residential schools and its leadership is needed "to work with Indigenous Peoples to find a path of truth telling and reconciliation."
The statement says his attendance would have been an "acknowledgment" to all survivors, their families and communities, adding that "a clear public gesture would have brought peace to many."
On Wednesday, Trudeau said he regrets the mistake of travelling to B.C. to join his vacationing family in Tofino on the day meant to honour survivors of the residential school system.
The First Nation says "real action and change" is needed that supports healing and the revitalization of their language, culture and traditions.
"We are not interested in apologies that don’t lead to institutional and widespread change."
The Prime Minister's Office said in a brief statement Thursday that Trudeau and Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir had spoken about the path forward to reconciliation.
It added that Trudeau and Casimir had previously spoken following the finding of more than 200 unmarked graves at the site of the former residential school.
Trudeau's office said Sunday that the prime minister spoke with the head of the Tk'emlúps te Secwepemc Nation on Saturday and apologized for failing to accept invitations to mark Sept. 30 in the community.
The First Nation said it wants funding for a healing centre to support residential school survivors as well as being supplied with the school's attendance records by the federal government, which could help identify remains found at the site as well as any other missing children.
Indigenous leaders have previously shared their frustration over the prime minister's decision to go on vacation on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
— By Nick Wells in Vancouver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2021.
The Canadian Press