The federal government has passed Bill C-5, which makes September 30 a national holiday for remembrance.
But some advocates are calling it a band-aid solution.
Dene Nation Chief Norman Yakelaya said he welcomed the news, but said it can’t replace concrete action.
“While I am ultimately grateful for the non-partisanship displayed with MPs unanimously agreeing to wrap debate on the Bill, I am reminded that this outcome is something I have repeatedly pressed the federal government for,” Yakeleya said in a statement. “At a time of such deep mourning for our communities, I can’t help but feel it’s now become a band-aid solution.”
The bill came in the wake of the discovery of 215 children that were found buried underneath an old residential school site in Kamloops.
“This should have already been a fast-tracked priority for this government in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action,” he added.
On the day the bill was passed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on the Catholic Church to take responsibility for its part in the residential school system in Canada, saying he was disappointed by the church’s decision not to release residential school records.
“When I went to the Vatican a number of years ago I directly asked His Holiness Pope Francis to move forward on apologizing, on asking for forgiveness, on restitution and on making these records available and we’re still seeing resistance from the church, possibly from the church in canada,” he said.
Trudeau said if the church doesn’t release the records, the government could take “stronger measures”, including taking the Catholic Church to court.
Speaking outside RCMP headquarters in Yellowknife, Deneze Nakehk’o,a filmmaker and advocate from the Dehcho region who spoke during the memorial walk, said people need to be brought to justice for what happened in Kamloops.
“Justice has to be served — a mass grave is a crime scene,” he said. “That means, a crime was committed. If a crime was committed, that means there’s people responsible and those people responsible — they have got to be faced with justice.”
Yakelaya reiterated his call for the federal government to support Indigenous governments in surveying more old residential school locations to find similar burial sites.Yakeleya made similar comments during a memorial walk the Dene Nation held in Yellowknife on Friday.
“Let me be clear that these public national acknowledgements do matter,” he added. “They matter for the survivors. They matter for our communities. They matter for the generations who have lost their traditions because their bloodlines were disrupted.”
“But let us not forget that immediate action also matters. Our Elders have told us where we can find our lost children. We need to bring them home for their families and their spirits.”
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support. Support services can be accessed by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866 925-4419.