Canada’s liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said it was a mistake to take his family on vacation on the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day honoring the lost and surviving children of indigenous schools.
Trudeau flew to Tofino, British Columbia, with his family on Thursday after his own government in June designated September 30 as a federal holiday to underscore the legacy of so-called residential schools.
Indigenous leaders criticized Trudeau for failing to deliver on his promise to make reconciliation a priority. Trudeau, 49, returned to power in a very close election last month, but did not win a majority.
The choice to travel during the holidays “was a mistake and I regret it,” Trudeau told reporters. “I’m focused on getting this right.”
The schools operated between 1831 and 1996 and removed some 150,000 indigenous children from their families. Some were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition in schools in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.
The discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves in two ancient schools earlier this year reopened the deep wounds left by the European colonization of Canada and subsequent efforts to assimilate indigenous cultures.
Trudeau had been invited to attend a ceremony on September 30 in the first nation of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc in British Columbia, where graves of unidentified children were discovered earlier this year. He didn’t go, but later said he spent time talking on the phone with victims and survivors from residential schools.
The prime minister said he subsequently called the head of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, Rosanne Casimir.
“I would like to thank Chief Casimir for taking my call this weekend so I can directly apologize for not being with her and her community that day,” Trudeau said, adding that he planned to visit the first nation “very soon.” .
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism