Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Tk'emlúps te Secwe̓pemc Nation on Monday and apologized after having failed to respond to an invitation to join them for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Trudeau had received at least two invitations to spend the day with survivors and their families. Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc said they had sent “two heartfelt invitations” to Trudeau. He did not attend, spending the day with family in Tofino, rather than to take the community up on their invitation.
A spokesperson for Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole criticized Trudeau for the incident. “Truth and Reconciliation Day shouldn’t be treated like a holiday but that’s what Justin Trudeau did,” said Chelsea Tucker. She said O’Toole spent the day in Ottawa “taking the opportunity to remember and honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families, and their communities.”
Chief Rosanne Casimir and Trudeau held a joint news conference near the former residential school where graves were unearthed this spring.
"When we imagined welcoming Prime Minister Trudeau to our community, it was envisioned that it would be an opportunity for him to interact with a wide array of survivors, intergenerational survivors and many different First Nations as part of September the 30th, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation," Casimir said today.
"The shock, anger and sorrow and disbelief was palpable in our community," Casimir said. "Today is about making some positive steps forward and rectifying a mistake."
Trudeau addressed the controversy, saying : "It was a mistake and I understand that it made a very difficult day even harder. You didn't have to invite me back, I know that. Thank you for doing so."
Trudeau said he also met with community leaders in the morning before the news conference.
"This morning we had an important and necessary conversation about how we, not just as Canadians but as an entire country, move forward given the reality of residential schools," Trudeau said.
During the meeting, Casimir made three requests of the federal government on the First Nation's behalf during her meeting with Trudeau: "full, unfettered access" to student attendance records from residential schools; funding for a new healing centre for the survivors of residential schools; and assistance for further surveys to search for unmarked burial sites.
"We will be there with as much as is necessary to get closure and to move forward right across the country," he responded.