Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this Canada Day would be a time for reflection after the remains of more than 700 people were found in unmarked graves at a former residential school in Saskatchewan.
Trudeau also said his government would support an independent investigation with subpoena power to gather church records that will look into crimes committed at residential schools, where Indigenous children taken from their homes were forced to assimilate.
“We’re waking up to something that [the] Indigenous community and those involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have long known,” he said during a news conference Friday. “That far too many kids, thousands upon thousands, were taken from their families, sent to far-off residential schools, and never came home.”
The prime minister also said he’s spoken with Pope Francis about the importance of travelling to Canada and making an apology to Indigenous peoples on behalf of the Catholic Church, which ran many residential schools in Canada.
“We will put indigenous peoples and their wishes for their loves ones and their communities at the core of whatever next steps we take,” Trudeau said.
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On Tuesday, the Cowessess First Nation announced its preliminary findings revealed 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval Residential School in Saskatchewan. The nation said the headstones were removed from the graves sometime in the 1960s.
That discovery came after the remains of 215 Indigenous children were discovered buried at a former Kamloops residential school.
Trudeau apologized to the Cowessess and Treaty 4 community during the conference and spoke of the impacts of intergenerational trauma from residential schools that still impact Indigenous peoples today.
Indigenous children are still removed from their families, language, and culture by Child and Family Services more often than non-Indigenous kids, a practice which Trudeau said has to stop.
If Canadians are shocked and appalled by what happened at residential schools, “so too should they be shocked and appalled at the consequences of that past that exist for far too many still today,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister added he understands why some people may not feel like celebrating Canada Day on July 1. He called on everyone to think about what still needs to be done to make the country better.
“This Canada Day will be a time of reflection on what we’ve achieved as a country. And on what more we have to do,” he said. “We need to pledge ourselves to doing what we can to continue that effort … and respecting and listening to those for whom it’s not yet a day of celebration.”
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for those experiencing pain, distress, or trauma as a result of their residential school experience. More information can be found here.