Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apology after he skipped reconciliation events in favour of vacationing in Tofino on the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is simply not good enough.
On Sunday, Trudeau’s press secretary confirmed that he had reached out to the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation Saturday and offered an apology for not responding to invitations to visit the community.
Ann-Clara Vaillancourt told 680 NEWS “He reached out [Saturday], spoke with the Chief, offered an apology, discussed the path forward and is looking forward to visiting the community soon.”
Chief Archibald said his apology fell short.
“As I stated to the Catholic church, hollow apologies will no longer be accepted. As National Chief, on behalf of all First Nations, I expect concrete action and changed behaviours. The Prime Minister must demonstrate through actions that he is committed to the healing path forward,” she said.
Chief Archibald also called upon the media to refocus attention on what National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is about – “survivors and those children who died in the institutions of assimilation and genocide.”
“I ask media outlets to give as much time to survivors’ stories as they are giving to the Prime Minister’s behaviour on September 30,” she added.
Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council on Vancouver Island, which includes the Tofino area, expressed a similar sentiment earlier Friday, saying Trudeau does not back up his words with concrete action.
She said the organization had not heard from Trudeau and had no idea he was going to be in the territory on Thursday. She felt he could have joined the Nuu-chah-nulth in Tofino for some brief remarks and left.
“I understand he’s on vacation and wants some time off, but he should’ve prioritized the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This is big for us here. It was a really important day,” Sayers said. “I always reflect back to how Trudeau says Indigenous Peoples are the most important relationship but he doesn’t show it. He always says good things but doesn’t follow it up with actions.”
On Thursday, Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said the community had twice invited Trudeau to join residential school survivors and their families on Sept. 30 and had not heard back. Earlier this year, the First Nation used ground-penetrating radar and located what are believed to be the remains of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
Later Thursday, Trudeau tweeted that he had spent some time that day having telephone conversations with residential school survivors from across Canada, “hearing their stories and getting their advice on the path forward.”
Alex Wellstead, a spokesman for the prime minister, said Friday that Trudeau “spoke with eight residential school survivors from across the country over several hours yesterday. It was an important opportunity to hear their stories of trauma and healing, and to hear their advice on the path forward.”
Trudeau had participated in a ceremony on Parliament Hill on Wednesday night near the Centennial Flame, where mounds of stuffed toys and pairs of children’s shoes have been left in honour of the children who never returned from residential schools.
Blake Desjarlais, a Metis leader and newly elected NDP MP for Edmonton Griesbach, said Trudeau’s actions increased the public perception that Thursday was “a family day” rather than a day for serious reflection about the treatment of Indigenous Peoples.
“The first day requires a precedent,” Desjarlais said. “It’s hard to imagine the future of Sept. 30 without the prime minister’s condolences, presence and messages.”
Trudeau’s daily public itinerary said at first that he was in “private meetings” in Ottawa on Thursday, though this was later changed to reflect his actual location.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) said it is shocked that Trudeau “ducked out entirely” from a national day set aside to reflect on the legacy of residential schools.
Lynne Groulx, the head of the political advocacy organization for Indigenous women, said in a statement that she is astounded by the “sheer level of callousness” displayed by Trudeau.
Groulx said Trudeau’s decision to “flit off to Tofino for a holiday” rather than “taking the time his government set aside to reflect upon the tragedy of the Indian residential schools” gave the impression he did not take the issue seriously.
“It is almost as if he checked off one of the calls to action of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) by declaring the statutory holiday, and then wiped his hands and said ‘job done, let’s move on,”’ she added.