Remarks on the findings at former residential schools and update on the COVID-19 pandemic
I want to begin by addressing the news that hundreds of unmarked graves have been found near the former residential school in Cowessess First Nation.
This was an incredibly harmful government policy that was Canada’s reality, for many, many decades and Canadians today are horrified and ashamed of how our country behaved.
It was a policy that ripped kids from their homes, from their communities, from their culture and their language and forced assimilation upon them.
This is a piece of our past that resonates, and echoes, and continues to be a lived reality for many people today.
So specifically to the members of the Cowessess community and Treaty 4 communities, we are sorry. It was something that we cannot undo in the past but we can pledge ourselves everyday to fix in the present and into the future.
And that means recognizing the harms, the impacts, the intergenerational trauma, the cycles of challenges that far too many Indigenous peoples face in this country because of actions that the federal government and other partners deliberately and willingly undertook.
I spoke with Chief Cadmus Delorme yesterday, the chief of Cowessess First Nation and offered all of the federal government’s continued support and partnership. And not just on supporting the communities that are grieving the discovery of these graves but also on the work that we must do to help them heal to create opportunities to move forward including on the issue of child and family services.
We know that even long after residential schools closed in this country, child and family service in the stated purpose of protecting children’s wellbeing, continued to take them away from their communities, continued to remove them from their language and culture, and placed them in foster homes and non-Indigenous communities all across the country.
That’s why, one of the calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to restore the care of kids at risk to the communities themselves.
And in my conversation with Chief Cadmus Delorme, we talked directly about how we could even further accelerate the great work that Cowessess has already been doing on moving forward on child and family services. This is an example of the kind of work that is being done right across the country.
This news from Saskatchewan has come on the heels of the terrible news out of Kamloops and it has caused a lot of Canadians to reflect on our past and how it has impacts on our present. It has caused a lot of Canadians to have difficult conversations with their loved ones, with their kids, about Canada’s history and Canada’s present.
Truth and reconciliation requires that we start with truth and we start by recognizing the terrible, terrible mistakes that we willingly undertook in the past, taking kids from their homes and communities and leaving them open to incredible challenges and hardship as we tried to remove their languages and cultures from them.
With Canada Day coming up next week, a lot of people will be reflecting on many different things.
Reflecting on the really tough year we just had with COVID-19.
On how much we lost, how much we learned, how much we’ve been there for each other through difficult times.
But at the same time, many Canadians will be reflecting on reconciliation, on our relationship with Indigenous peoples, and how it has evolved and how it needs to continue to evolve rapidly.
We have so many things we need to work on together and I think this Canada Day will be a time of reflection on what we’ve achieved as a country but on what more we have to do.
So as we gather with family and friends, carefully still, and reflect on our past, we need to understand and remind ourselves that Canada didn’t happen by accident and it won’t continue without effort.
And this coming Canada Day, I think we all need to pledge ourselves to doing what we can, to continue that effort to make Canada better all the while respecting and listening to those for whom it’s not yet a day of celebration.
I think all of us need to aspire and work hard to get to the point where everyone across this country will be able celebrate fully all that this great country is and all it can be into the coming years.
And we know that if we’re going to be that, we all have more work to do because that’s the story of Canada - always stepping up with more work to do.
Yesterday, I also talked with National Chief Bellegarde because tragically, Cowessess is not the only place in this country where children in the residential school system.
It’s not the only place where children faced abuse, loneliness, illness, and neglect.
So to all families and survivors across the country, I know that no words can right these terrible wrongs.
It is with our actions that we need to continue to recognize the truth and to do everything we can to support you.
Following the discovery at the former Kamloops residential school earlier this month, we’ve made 27 million dollars available immediately to Indigenous communities to find and honour children who died at these institutions.
For communities in Saskatchewan in particular, like Cowessess, we’ve reached an agreement with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations to provide almost $4.9 million to search for burial sites.
And for people across the country, we’re providing whatever mental health support survivors, families, and communities need for healing.
The residential school system was designed to erase Indigenous language and culture. One of the things I’ve heard from leaders and community members is the importance of taking concrete steps to repair that harm.
That’s exactly why we passed the Indigenous Languages Act, which is an essential step on the road of reconciliation.
And we’re continuing to move forward.
On Monday, I met with the Commissioner and Directors of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages. We are continuing our work as partners to ensure that Indigenous culture and language can flourish and grow.
We know there is much more to be done to right past wrongs and close gaps that still exist today.
As a government, we will always be ready to do that work. And we must all continue to be part of this progress, and of these steps forward on the path of reconciliation.
This week we celebrate Canada Day.
It is an opportunity to reflect not only on the extremely difficult year we have had because of COVID-19, but also on Canada’s history and its impact today, especially on Indigenous communities.
There are people who will not and cannot celebrate Canada Day this year, and we must listen to them, respect them, and commit to doing even more.
It is a time to reflect on the country we are and the country we want to be, knowing that each and every one of us has a role to play in moving forward, continuing to become and being the best country in the world.
This morning, I also want to share an update about where we are in the fight against this pandemic.
And to begin with, I have some good news about vaccine deliveries.
We committed to reaching 9.1 million Pfizer doses delivered to Canada in July, as part of our summer ramp-up.
We’ve now received confirmation of our July vaccine delivery schedule from Pfizer, and it provides us the clear path to reach that goal.
In other words, we’re keeping our commitment.
Of course, we’ve shared these delivery details with the provinces and territories, so that they can get doses into arms as soon as they arrive.
Canada is leading the world on vaccination.
Over 76% of eligible Canadians have had at least a first dose, and over 26% have had a second.
But let’s keep that momentum up.
Remember, you need a second dose to stay safe.
It’s not something you can do halfway.
Just like, by now, everybody knows that the mask goes over your nose and mouth, we all have to get that second shot once we’ve gotten our first.
All told on vaccines, we’ll receive a total over 68 million doses by the end of July.
That’s a lot of vaccines. And it’s our path to beat this pandemic in Canada.
On that note, later today, Dr. Tam will present updated modelling which shows where we can expect case numbers to go in the next few weeks.
Over the last 15 months, these models haven’t always been good news. But because people have gotten vaccinated, because people have stayed at home and followed public health rules, the outlook right now is more hopeful.
If we stay on our current track, if people continue to be careful and get vaccinated, cases should continue to go down. And that means we can keep moving forward, safely, with reopening.
So get vaccinated when it’s your turn. This will protect you, your family, and your community. And it will get us all closer to the end of this crisis.
Now, before I end for today, I want to take a moment to talk to all the kids out there who are starting their summer break.
It’s been a tough year. I know that. I spent a lot of time watching my son, Hadrien, trying to stay focused on a computer with his Lego beside him as he’s getting through grade 1.
And nobody wants to have gone though an entire school year like this but so many of you have. You’ve been incredibly strong. You’ve figured out how to help around the house, help your mum and dad in difficult times, stay focused on school even though it was totally different. You’ve missed your friends and you found ways to play with them virtually.
We’ve all made incredible sacrifices this year but you have made an awful lot, as kids. So I want to say thank you. That we’re proud of you. Your parents are proud of you. Your teachers are proud of you.
And Canada is proud of everything you did to help us get through this year and hopefully, end this pandemic very soon.
You’ve earned a better summer. Yes, we’ll still have to be careful and it won’t entirely be normal as a summer but it’ll be pretty great. We’re all looking forward to getting back outside and having fun with our friends. And we’re going to be able to do an awful lot of that this summer because you stayed focused on helping, on being there, and on getting us all through it.
And to parents and teachers, Thank you.
I know it’s really been tough as well. And I know if again, you’re like my household, you’re busy thinking about how we’re going to get our kids away from those screens that were so integral to their daily lives over the past many, many months and actually have them play together and play outside, and drop some of those electronic habits. But we have gotten through this. We’re not quite done, we still need to be careful and vigilant and will for quite a while.
But things are so much better because Canadians pulled together. Thank you for everything you’ve done for your kids, for your students, for our communities.
Thank you for having their backs as we will continue to have yours.
Our government has invested billions of dollars to get students, teachers, and staff the support they need.
For example, for the Algoma District School Board in Ontario, this funding means being able to upgrade everything from ventilation to lighting. And that means better, safer classrooms for students to return to.
It’s been a tough year for everyone.
But we’re going to keep investing to make sure that kids, parents, and workers – and everyone – comes roaring back.