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Federal NDP leader aims to carry momentum of awareness of Indigenous issues into action

Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo NDP candidate Bill Sundhu (left) and Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh (right) met with Tk'emlups te Secwepemc leadership on July 29, 2021.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh stood at the steps of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School this morning to assert the need for the Canadian government to partner with Indigenous communities as they undertake the work of seeking gravesites at Indian residential schools across the country.

He stood with local NDP candidate Bill Sundhu after the two held a meeting earlier in the morning with Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir and council members today, July 29.

Tk'emlups leadership was not present, however, at the press conference.

"Chief and Council today raised a number of issues... and really I think one big framework was that Indigenous communities have a lot of the solutions and want to be able to make those decisions, and (the federal government should) ally or partner to support the work that they're doing. As opposed to what we've seen in the past, which has been very paternalistic — a very Ottawa-knows-best approach," Singh said at the press conference. "Indigenous communities need support to be empowered."

Singh is the first federal leader to visit the former Kamloops Indian Residential School since the graves of 215 former students were discovered through ground penetrating radar near the school site in May.

The discovery set off a wave of mourning across the country and multiple Indigenous communities in B.C. and beyond have taken on similar work to reveal where, and how many, Indigenous students are buried at other residential schools.

"The idea that there would be a gravesite on a school is really appalling. It really highlights these were not meant to be schools — they were not meant to educate kids," Singh said. "We all knew about residential institutions. It hit us differently as a country when we heard about the 215 kids."

Singh called for the 94 Truth and Reconciliation calls to action to be fully implemented, but when asked which ones were most important to be implemented immediately, he said the "easiest and most obvious one" is to provided funding to Indigenous communities wishing to search for unmarked graves, and to provide funding and supports for healing centres to grapple with the trauma.

"Being here drives home how important it is that we cannot just mourn and grieve, we have to act, and I'm inspired that Canadians agree," Singh said. "Justin Trudeau has done a lot of show, and that's simply not good enough."

The federal government recently announced it they will increase spending toward searching grave sites at former Indian residential schools. In the 2019 federal budget, $27.1 million was slated for that work.

He said his party will demand the federal government provide clean drinking water for all reserves, implement the 94 Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and put an end to an ongoing court battle in which the federal government is appealing a Human Rights Tribunal decision to pay $40,000 to $50,000 to Indigenous children who were separated from their families through the child welfare system.

While Singh is the first federal party leader to visit the site, Tk'emlups Chief Rosanne Casimir said at a recent press conference that the community is awaiting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's response to visit the former Indian residential school and to release much-needed records which would help identify children buried at the grave sites.

Tk'emlups Chief and Council did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

— With files from the Canadian Press.

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