By Michael Potestio
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Jagmeet Singh said it was harder than he thought to stand in front of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
“I just wanted to get a better sense of what it was like,” the federal New Democrat Party leader told reporters gathered outside the building.
Singh was in Kamloops on Thursday visiting the grounds where the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc band announced in May it had found signs of probable graves of children connected to the residential school using ground-penetrating radar (GPR). Singh said he’s visited other residential schools in the past, but this was the first during his current week-long tour of Indigenous communities, speaking to how his party will continue fighting for justice for Indigenous people.
Singh told reporters the NDP is committed to implementing all 94 calls to action outlined in a report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to invest in and support Indigenous communities in healing the trauma of residential schools. He also called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt Federal Court appeals, which he said continue the legacy of discrimination from the residential school era.
The federal Liberal government is appealing a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that Ottawa make payments to First Nations children separated from their families under the child welfare system. It is also fighting a tribunal decision that widened the Jordan Principle, a rule that governments sort out who pays for services to First Nations children after helping the child.
“We will do everything possible to fight for justice, we will do everything possible to support healing, we will do everything possible tor return kids and we will fight this climate crisis by creating good jobs that help us reduce emissions,” Singh said.
While Canadians knew about the history of residential institutions in Canada’s history, Singh said “it hit us differently as a country when we found the 215 kids” at the Tk’emlups site.
“There was shock, people were reeling, there was horror,” Singh said.
The Tk’emlups band is making preparations for archaeological work at the site, for which it is asking for government funding. Singh told KTW the Tk’emlups band’s request for government funding has to be committed to, adding that residential schools were the product of Canada and the federal government therefore has a responsibility to support Indigenous communities in their healing.
Singh met with Chief Rosanne Casimir and band council ahead of the press conference, telling reporters a list of asks was as the band advocated for itself and for Indigenous communities in general to receive adequate funding to provide services.
“And there was an overlying theme of Indigenous communities and leadership have a lot of the answers they just need an ally that’s working with them, not telling them what to do but working with them,” Singh said, adding he thinks that needs to recognized by government.
Singh was not joined by the Tk’emlups band council during his press conference, but said that was intentional as they had other meetings and he did not want to put them in the position of having to address media.
Singh was, however, flanked by NDP candidate for the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, Bill Sundhu, who described the meeting as “fruitful.”
Singh is the first known federal leader to visit the Tk’emlups band site since the discovery of probable graves. He said he wanted to visit and pay his respects right away, but waited due to the band’s COVID-19 protocols and influx of visitors.
Singh said he doesn’t know why the other leaders haven’t visited but it was important to him to make the trip.
“It is important to me, it’s important to a lot of Canadians, and it’s important to Indigenous communities to feel like they matter, are seen and heard.”
Michael Potestio is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the KAMLOOPS THIS WEEK. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.