Tk’emlups leaders’ open letter set steps for PM to prove commitment to reconciliation

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Senior members of a British Columbia First Nation have issued an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that offers seven immediate steps he could take to show he is serious about reconciliation.

The letter from family heads of the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation comes a day after Trudeau visited their territory in Kamloops for the first time since more than 200 unmarked graves were found in May at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

In the open letter published in the Globe and Mail, the 13 family heads, including former Tk’emlups chief Manny Jules, say they believe Trudeau wouldn’t have visited “were it not for the grim reality of these unmarked graves.”

They say they “want to believe the sincerity” of the prime minister’s comments about the importance of reconciliation but urge him to commit to “seven real acts” to add action to his words.

Those include repatriating any remains of former students found on the grounds of the Kamloops residential school, creating a permanent memorial at the site and building a healing and education centre.

No one from the Prime Minister’s Office was immediately available to comment on the letter.

The open letter also calls for control over taxation, rights and resources across Tk’emlups territories, recognition of that control by the courts, and the lowering of the Canadian flag to half-mast every Sept. 30 “in memory of the lost cultures, languages, childhoods and lives taken by residential schools.”

Trudeau apologized several times Monday for not attending events in Kamloops to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30. He was on vacation in Tofino.

Tk’emlups Chief Rosanne Casimir told Trudeau on Monday that to truly honour the Sept. 30 date and the families whose children did not come home, flags should be flown at half-mast on that day.

The prime minister agreed, saying flags will always be lowered and a flag designed by the National Council for Truth and Reconciliation will be flown. “There will be an opportunity for all Canadians, non-Indigenous Canadians to reflect on the country we live in.”

A similar petition seeking rights and title was presented by Tk’emlups ancestors to prime minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1910, the letter says.

That petition was not only rejected, “but the federal government supported the genocide of our people through the creation of residential schools, took away our voting rights, prevented our legal challenges relating to the title of our land, reduced the size of our reserves and formally removed our fiscal powers to ensure our sustainability,” it says.

The letter says Canada will never achieve reconciliation “through words, apologies and mere signals of virtue,” and adds that hard work lies ahead, pointing to a closing sentence in the 111-year-old petition to Laurier that they say remains true today.

“So long as what we consider justice is withheld from us, so long will dissatisfaction and unrest exist among us and we will continue to struggle to better ourselves.”

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