Trudeau visits Indigenous community that found unmarked graves | Indigenous Rights News
The Canadian Prime Minister’s visit to Williams Lake First Nation comes amid pressure for justice for residential school abuses.
Disclaimer: The story below contains details about residential schools that may be upsetting. The Crisis Line for Residential School Survivors and Families of Canada is available 24 hours a day at 1-866-925-4419.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Williams Lake First Nation, an Indigenous community on the country’s west coast that recently discovered dozens of potential unmarked graves on the grounds of a former “boarding school”.
Trudeau and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller meet with local leaders and residential school survivors, and tour the site of the former St. Joseph Mission residential school.
A preliminary excavation of the former school grounds uncovered 93 “reflections” believed to be unmarked graves, Williams Lake announced in January.
“We are grateful to the Prime Minister for taking the time to visit Williams Lake First Nation,” Chief Willie Sellars said in a statement announcing the visit.
“This trip has been a long time to prepare and we have a lot to discuss about the St. Joseph Mission Inquiry, the Government of Canada’s role in residential school investigations, and Canada’s commitment to the goals of reconciliation” , Sellars said.
Hundreds of unmarked graves have been discovered at the sites of former residential schools across Canada since last May, fueling widespread calls for justice and accountability for victims and survivors of forced assimilation facilities.
Canada forced more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children to attend residential schools between the late 1800s and the 1990s. Children were stripped of their languages and culture, separated from their siblings and subjected to psychological, physical and sexual abuse.
Thousands of people are thought to have died while attending the institutions, which were run by various churches, including the Roman Catholic Church.
A federal commission of inquiry into institutions, known as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), concluded in 2015 that Canada’s residential school system amounted to “cultural genocide.”
Thousands of children from Williams Lake First Nation, as well as other Indigenous communities, were forced to attend St Joseph, which operated as a boarding school from 1891 to 1981.
“I am here to both indicate that all of Canada mourns with this community the loss, the feelings of loss that have come since the discovery of the reflections, but also the profound loss that this community has felt over the generations due to the legacy of residential schools,” Trudeau said at a ceremony Wednesday.
“I am mostly here to listen, learn, hear from elders and community members about what the way forward looks like, not just for this community but for this country – in partnership, in respect, in reconciliation.
The Prime Minister’s visit comes as an Indigenous delegation is currently in Rome demanding an apology from Pope Francis for the role of the Catholic Church in the residential school system.
“The church still has a long way to go before we can possibly forgive them for what they have done,” Métis Nation of Ontario provisional council member Mitch Case said after meeting with Pope Monday.
“But if he [Pope Francis] is willing to walk with us, then we will be willing to walk with him.