Splatsin Kukpi7 (Chief) and Secwepemc Nation Tribal Council Chair Wayne Christian had some strong words for Justin Trudeau upon the prime minister’s visit to Kamloops earlier this month.
“Canada has treated our people in such a way that the anger and the frustration is hard to swallow,” he said Oct. 18 to a crowd of residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders in Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc territory, where the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered using ground-penetrating radar at the site of a former residential school in May.
Christian’s mother was among the children who attended residential school.
“She never spoke about the atrocities she experienced as a child,” he said. “And I would say to my mom May 27th of this year, 2021, the children, the children uttered these words to the world: ‘you found us. You found us.’”
Christian called Trudeau’s visit “one of frustration and anger because politicians have a tendency, especially when they’re at a big media type of thing and saying what the public wants to hear.
“I didn’t hear anything that I saw as concrete steps forward, specifically around the legal issues.” He said. “They need to take a legal strategy on reconciliation, specifically for the children. Stop fighting our kids in court, stop continuing to steal our land through the process they’ve set out. Stop taking our resources.”
The longstanding Splatsin chief implored Trudeau to take action and “do something concrete,” such as invite some residential school survivors onto the reconciliation minister’s cabinet committee to educate his cabinet on “the real atrocities of Canada.”
“Listen to our people. Because that’s one thing that happened when those young children spoke up to the world. There are survivors in my community that never ever spoke about their experience.”
Trudeau came under criticism for not attending Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc on Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Trudeau apologized to Tk’emlúps Chief Rosanne Casimir earlier this month for not accepting invitations to events honouring survivors and instead visited Tofino with his family on Sept. 30.
Christian described how Indigenous children in Canada were treated at residential schools; they were humiliated, had their heads shaved and were given a number instead of a name.
“I’m 623801. That’s my number. But that’s not who I am. I am a Secwepemc man, I am a Secwepemc grandfather.”
Christian’s message to the attending survivors of the residential school system was one of gratitude for their perseverance and their preservation of Secwepemc culture despite the “genocidal” efforts of Canada in decades past.
“For all you people that are here, the survivors, take care of yourself, because this is horrific stuff that you were triggered into.
“You warrior-ed up, you survived over 100 years of this institution. We’re still here.”