Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised a flag on Parliament Hill Wednesday morning to honour Indigenous people who were forced to attend residential schools.
He said the Survivors’ Flag also serves as a daily reminder that some children never returned home from the schools.
Trudeau added that reconciliation is the responsibility of all Canadians.
The prime minister spoke in front of a crowd that included residential school survivors from around the country, telling them the church-operated, government-funded institutions were based on terribly wrong beliefs and understanding.
Andrew Carrier, a Catholic day school survivor who now sits on the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s Governing Circle, said it is important for Indigenous and Métis people to be proud of their language and culture.
He encouraged all Canadians to reflect on the history of residential schools that operated for more than a century in Canada.
Carrier, a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation, said the flag-raising signifies the ongoing commitment of survivors to expose the truth about what happened in the system.
He said that truth is igniting a change in the minds of Canadians.
“It is also a reminder that a great deal of work remains on this journey of reconciliation,” he said.
“My hope is for us to continue to walk this path together in harmony. That’s a bumpy path for sure, but we must try for the name of all our children.”
Trudeau said there is much more work to do.
“While residential schools were trying to teach Indigenous peoples that their language had no value, that their cultures had no value, that their identity had no value, every other school in Canada was teaching non-Indigenous kids the same way, that Indigenous languages culture, people have no value,” he said.
“We all have work to do in our hearts and in our systems.”
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon said at the ceremony that raising the flag on a day of celebration acknowledges that life is filled with both joy and sorrow.
“While today we celebrate progress in reconciliation and the joy inherent in Indigenous culture, we do so in the shadow of the memory of children who died and suffered in residential schools and the intergenerational trauma their families and communities continue to experience,” she said.
“Canada will never forget as it looks to build a future where we are all celebrated and all our stories are valued.”
Later on Wednesday, outside the House of Commons, New Democrat MP Leah Gazan said residential school denialism needs to end in Canada, and she is considering legal mechanisms to help make that happen.
“Survivors deserve protection. Those of us who have intergenerational impacts deserve protection, our communities deserve protection,” she said.
Fellow NDP MP Blake Desjarlais called on the federal government to introduce a strategy to ensure there is urban housing for Indigenous people to address ongoing poverty concerns.
“It is no question that as time continues, we will lose lives,” he said, urging a strategy to be brought in before winter arrives.