The importance of actions over words was a recurring theme throughout an event held at the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc powwow arbour on Monday, marking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first visit to the community since the confirmation of hundreds of unmarked graves was announced in May.
Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir had strong words for the Prime Minister, saying the visit was “bittersweet” after Trudeau chose to vacation in Tofino on Truth and Reconciliation Day instead of acknowledging invitations to visit the community.
“The shock, anger and sorrow and disbelief was palpable in our community, and it rippled throughout the world,” Casimir said.
Casimir said she had accepted Trudeau’s apology, but said he must work to support community requests — such as a healing centre and technical expertise to identify more marked graves — in order to effect real change.
“I’m a true believer that actions will speak louder than words. And today, there was action. He was here, he flew over on his son’s birthday to be here, to make that first step. So I’m hopeful,” Casimir said.
Trudeau said he deeply regretted the decision he made, and said he is committed to working with Tk’emlups to address their needs.
He said the federal government had already handed over records of residential school student attendance records to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in Winnipeg.
“We will continue to work together on important issues, whether its the healing centre that this community has been asking for for a long time and certainly needs as a consequence of the discovery of the unmarked graves, or an elders' lodge, or designation of historic sites,” Trudeau said.
He said the government would also move forward to invest in a museum in order to commemorate and support the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc language and culture.
“These are all actions that we remain committed to, and this is the conversation we had today,” Trudeau said.
Along with a healing centre for residential school and intergenerational survivors, Casimir said an elders' lodge and a museum are also important asks.
She said an elders' lodge would enable the band to take care of aging members on its own land.
“It’s about being able to give our elders the dignity to be living at home with assisted daily living supports in place right through to the extended care,” Casimir said.
“With the museum, it’s about always remembering who we are and where we came from. It’s also ensuring we can house our artefacts,” Casimir said, adding that there are artifacts currently held in a New York museum that are waiting to be returned to Tk'emlups.
“That is something we want to see and be able to have and house here, not only for TteS but for the nation, as well.”
Other Indigenous leaders present at the event, including Terry Teegee, regional chief for the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, challenged Trudeau to ensure his words are turned to actions.
“We acknowledge and are respectful of the commitments that we heard here today, but I think we’re beyond theatrics, platitudes and words,” Teegee said.
“Whether it's providing records for our Indigenous children that are yet to be found, or moving ahead for the resources for our healing centres here in Tk’emlups and elsewhere in this province, in this country, is what is needed to realize that we're on a healing journey. And it's not just for Indigenous peoples, it's for this country, that we see a better future for all of us.”