Local First Nations members and supporters gathered at Chesterman Beach on a stormy Saturday evening to demand a public apology from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for travelling to Tofino on the country’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
“It’s sad that we don’t expect much from leadership anymore. It’s sad that we have to stand here in the rain, in the middle of a pandemic following an election just to be heard, but here we are,” Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation member Hjalmer Wenstob said in front of the gathering of roughly 20 people outside the beachfront property the prime minister is currently staying in.
Trudeau arrived in Tofino on Sept. 30 and was not seen at any of the community’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation events, though his office suggested he was spending the day speaking with residential school survivors from across Canada.
Wenstob and his brother Timmy Masso were the lead speakers at Saturday’s gathering and also presented a written statement demanding an apology.
“We are disheartened that you did not use this day to further your own personal education, and answer the call and responsibility as Prime Minister to observe, attend, and bear witness to the many events of Truth and Reconciliation,” the letter reads, in part. “It is with heavy hearts to hear that you did not attend the event in Kamloops, where you were invited by the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc band, and instead took time to holiday in our ha’houthee.”
Trudeau did not come outside to address the gathering in person.
“Sadly, Trudeau didn’t come out, but we did get a member of his staff to come out and accept our statement on his behalf and we’re to expect a response from the Prime Minister’s office within a few days,” Wenstob said.
Masso told the Westerly that the prime minister’s visit to Tofino was both disheartening and disrespectful.
“We use reconciliation as a word right now, but recently it seems like a hollow word. It doesn’t seem like there’s really that much action that’s going into it and it’s quite sad to say that because I don’t want to be looking at the dark, but when we talk about reconciliation and then our prime minister goes and vacations, it’s kind of a double standard…If one sitting prime minister were to take a vacation on Remembrance Day, the whole country would be in an uproar,” Masso said.
“I think a lot of people are angry. I think there’s a lot of people within the Nation and other Nations that were quite angry that our prime minister didn’t go and attend these events and didn’t spend that time to educate himself. But, in what we’re doing today, we have to put aside our anger, we have to put aside our frustrations…We have to follow the teachings of iisaak, which is respect. In going forward to make change, we have to put aside our anger and our frustration.”
He said he hopes Trudeau will publicly acknowledge that spending the country’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Tofino was a mistake.
“In Nuu-chah-nulth culture and Nuu-chah-nulth protocols, whenever you make a mistake, you acknowledge that. That’s what we were hoping for here today, that he would stand up and acknowledge what he did and acknowledge that he did not stand with our people on this Day of Truth and Reconciliation,” he said. “Moving forward, I really hope that our prime minister will put a statement out and not just a statement, but actually have his voice heard by all of Canada, saying that he did make a mistake and he’s going to correct it now.”
Wenstob added that reconciliation cannot happen without respect.
“There’s a lot of work to start building relations and the work that’s been done by so many people before us to even get to a point where we have a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, is the start of work, but the start is to be respectful. That’s where it has to start. We can’t do work of truth or reconciliation without respect, and we can’t build relationships without respect. It’s the first thing you need to have and it’s sad that it’s clearly evident that it’s not here,” he said.
“It’s sad that we have to come and gather and do this just to be heard and at the same time not be heard. We’ve seen so many people who have put their hearts and souls into this day and so many people who have stepped up to answer the call and here we are and the leader of the country refuses to do that and decides to take a vacation. The word respect can’t even be in that conversation yet.”