WILLIAMS LAKE, B.C.- Children drummed to welcome Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he arrived at the Williams Lake First Nation in British Columbia today.
Trudeau says his visit shows that “all of Canada grieves” with the community after 93 “reflections” were found that could indicate the burial sites of children around the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School.
Trudeau says he was mostly in Williams Lake to listen and learn from elders, survivors and the community about “what the path forward looks like, not just for this community, but for this country, in partnership, in respect, in reconciliation.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller and Trudeau met with elders and residential school survivors individually, grasping their hands and offering braids of sweetgrass.
Williams Lake Chief Willie Sellars said earlier that the First Nation hoped Trudeau would bring a commitment of long-term funding as his community and others search for the remains of missing children around the sites of former residential schools in Canada.
Sellars said they need the federal government to provide complete records about St. Joseph’s, along with support in urging the Roman Catholic Church to do the same, as they work to identify children who never returned home.
Sellars said the federal government’s role in advancing reconciliation should also include support for economic development and key community needs, like housing.
The investigation at St. Joseph’s came after ground-penetrating radar located what are believed to be more than 200 graves at a former residential school in Kamloops last year.
The St. Joseph’s institution was opened by the Roman Catholic Church in 1891 as an industrial school where Indigenous children were required to do labour like timber splitting and farming, Sellars said in January. It remained open until 1981.
The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which documented the experiences of survivors and others affected by Canada’s residential schools, says at least 4,100 children died of neglect at the institutions.
The Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program has a hotline to help residential school survivors and their relatives suffering with trauma invoked by the recall of past abuse.
The number is 1-866-925-4419.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2022.