Justin Trudeau sorry for skipping first national truth and reconciliation day – The Guardian

Canada’s Liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said it was a mistake to take his family on holiday on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation honouring the lost children and survivors of Indigenous schools.

Trudeau flew to Tofino, British Columbia, with his family on Thursday after his own government in June had designated 30 September a federal holiday to underscore the legacy of the so-called residential schools.

Indigenous leaders criticized Trudeau for failing to live up to his pledge to make reconciliation a priority. Trudeau, 49, returned to power in a closely contested election last month, but fell short of winning a majority.

The choice to travel on the holiday “was a mistake, and I regret it”, Trudeau told reporters. “I’m focused on making this right.”

The schools operated between 1831 and 1996 and removed about 150,000 Indigenous children from their families. Some were subjected to abuse, rape and malnutrition at schools in what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 called “cultural genocide”.

The discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at two former schools earlier this year reopened the deep wounds left by the European colonisation of Canada and the subsequent efforts to assimilate Indigenous cultures.

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Canada’s residential schools

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Canada’s residential schools

Over the course of 100 years, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families to attend state-funded Christian boarding schools in an effort to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society.

They were given new names, forcibly converted to Christianity and prohibited from speaking their native languages. Thousands died of disease, neglect and suicide; many were never returned to their families.

The last residential school closed in 1996.

Nearly three-quarters of the 130 residential schools were run by Roman Catholic missionary congregations, with others operated by the Presbyterian, Anglican and the United Church of Canada, which is today the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

In 2015, a historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission which concluded that the residential school system amounted to a policy of cultural genocide.

Survivor testimony made it clear that sexual, emotional and physical abuse were rife at the schools. And the trauma suffered by students was often passed down to younger generations – a reality magnified by systematic inequities that persist across the country.

Dozens of First Nations do not have access to drinking water, and racism against Indigenous people is rampant within the healthcare system. Indigenous people are overrepresented in federal prisons and Indigenous women are killed at a rate far higher than other groups.

The commissioners identified 20 unmarked gravesites at former residential schools, but they also warned that more unidentified gravesites were yet to be found across the country.

Photograph: Provincial Archives Of Saskatchewan/PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES OF SASKATCHE

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Trudeau had been invited to attend a ceremony on 30 September at the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc first nation in British Columbia, where unmarked graves of children were discovered earlier this year. He did not go but later said he spent time speaking with victims and survivors of the residential schools by phone.

The prime minister said he subsequently called the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc chief, Rosanne Casimir.

“I’d like to thank Chief Casimir for taking my call this weekend so I could apologise directly for not being with her and her community on that day,” Trudeau said, adding that he was planning to visit the first nation “very soon”.

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Justin Trudeau sorry for skipping first national truth and reconciliation day – The Guardian

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