All of Canada grieves with the feeling of loss that comes with the discovery of the 93 reflections at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while visiting Williams Lake First Nation Wednesday, March 30.
The country has an appreciation for the deep loss the community has felt over generations because of the legacy of residential schools, Trudeau said.
“I am here mostly to listen, learn and to hear from elders and community members what the path forward looks like, not just for this community, but this country, in partnership and respect in reconciliation.”
Trudeau was given a traditional welcome as he approached the WLFN administration building on Quigli Drive. It had been raining until about half an hour before.
Children from Little Chiefs Primary School and Daycare from the nearby community of Sugar Cane were outside waiting and as Trudeau and Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Marc Miller arrived the children sang and drummed under the direction of WLFN cultural leader David Archie.
For a few minutes Trudeau knelt down and spoke directly with some of the children.
Fresh evergreen bows lay on the entranceway to the administration building where two Secwépemc elders from Canim Lake and Bonaparte were smudging people as they entered.
Trudeau stopped, was smudged, and said “thank you.”
Many elders and cultural leaders from Secwépemc, Dakelh and Tsilhqot’in communities who attended were dressed in regalia. They lined the outside of the building and then moved inside.
Once inside, WLFN chief and council, along with half a dozen elders and cultural leaders, attended the welcoming ceremony.
An exchange of gifts saw Trudeau receive two handmade drums and a copy of Chief Willie Sellars’ book Hockey With Dad for his children and an original illustration from the book’s illustrator Kevin Easthope.
“The illustration is significant because it shows what we are wanting to do here. It shows the grandpa making a prayer and an offering to the water,” Sellars said. The grandpa is teaching how important the fish and the water are and passing that down, he added.
Trudeau was presented the book and illustration by two youth – Keane Philbrick and Jacey Gilbert – who are members of the WLFN 4-H club, of which Sellars said there are about 30 members who gain experience on the 390-acre ranch WLFN purchased nearby.
Sellars told the prime minister food security is a great concern and priority for WLFN.
WLFN councillors JoAnne Moiese and Shawna Philbrick presented Trudeau with a gift of a beaded medallion for his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau that represents the 93 reflections found at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School.
Moiese asked if Sophie could please wear it on National Day For Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, 2022.
Trudeau, in turn, presented Chief Sellars with a raven and whale print.
After the welcoming, Trudeau took about half an hour to meet with residential school survivors where they exchanged words, listened and even had one long hug with one of the women he spoke with.
National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations RoseAnne Archibald said she was moved to see Trudeau meet with the survivors.
“That survivors are heard and that they have a space to talk with the leader of the country and that could somehow impact the Prime Minister to really understand the breadth of the trauma that came from these institutions,” she told the Tribune.
Trudeau’s visit at WLFN lasted about four hours and was the third trip to the region in less than five years.
Trudeau toured the area in the summer of 2017 during the wildfires, and again in November 2018 where he travelled to Xeni Gwet’in First Nation to deliver a personal apology and exonerate six of the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s war chiefs who were hanged in 1864.
On Wednesday afternoon Trudeau also visited the St. Joseph’s Mission former residential school site.
Delegates such as Archibald, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerkson, Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty, Cariboo Regional District chair Margo Wagner and multiple chiefs will attend the ceremony. Representative from the city of Williams Lake, who has a strained relationship with WLFN, was not invited to attend. The City did issue a statement Wednesday saying their thoughts are with their Indigenous neighbours.
Tsilhqot’in chiefs were also not in attendance for Trudeau’s visit as they feel they should have a greater role in the investigation of St. Joseph’s Mission.