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Federal Justice minister tours B.C. residential school site with First Nations leaders

“It was important to visit the site,” Lametti said after touring St. Joseph’s Mission site
Canada’s justice minister Dave Lametti was in Williams Lake recently where he met with First Nations leadership. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

First Nations leaders in the Cariboo-Chilcotin hosted federal justice minister Dave Lametti for meetings in Williams Lake recently.

A member of the Liberal party, Lametti has been the minister of justice and attorney general of Canada since 2019. He has met with some of the Tsilhqot’in and Secwépemc leaders in Ottawa before or virtually during the pandemic.

One of the topics he discussed was the upcoming appointment of the special interlocutor who will facilitate communications between the federal government and Indigenous peoples to work collaboratively to make recommendations for changes to strengthen federal laws and practices with regard to unmarked burial sites, to protect and preserve these sites.

He toured St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School site with Charlene Belleau, former Esk’etemc chief and one of two appointed provincial First Nations liaisons.

Presently Belleau is part of the Williams Lake First Nation team investigating 93 potential unmarked graves that require further analysis at the mission site and Onward Ranch.

St. Joseph’s Mission operated as an Indian Residential School between 1886 and 1981, where thousands of Indigenous children were forced to attend. The institution was operated by various religious sects over the years, and predominantly controlled by the Roman Catholic missionaries as part of the residential school system set up by the Government of Canada.

READ MORE: ‘93 is our number’: WLFN reveals St. Joseph’s Mission preliminary findings

“It was important to visit the site,” Lametti told Black Press Media before he departed from the Williams Lake Regional Airport.

“You know intellectually these tragic events have happened — horrific barbaric events caused by colonialism. At an intellectual level I know that. But it is important to see the lay of the land, the buildings that still exist.”

WLFN Chief Willie Sellars said his nation has met with Minister Lametti several times and he is a good advocate for WLFN and the region.

“He wanted to go over the special interlocutor position and announcement and get our feedback on the terms of reference. We talked about next steps and what the position is going to mean in terms of investigations that are going on across this country.”

Sellars said there is a “little bit” of hesitancy from WLFN in regards to what the special interlocutor position means and potentially getting in the way of the continued work that needs to be done.

“But we are also supportive of it because having a main line into the federal government that enables us to get information, and documents and answers quicker is also better. That’s what we want to see.”

Aside from the special interlocutor position, which he hopes to announce fairly soon, the minister’s mandate is to work on the development of an action plan for the federal government’s implementation of UNDRIP, the development of an Indigenous justice strategy and other issues related to Indigenous justice issues.

He is also proposing amendments to the Criminal Code and to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act through Bill C-5, which would reduce minimum penalties but ensure courts can continue to impose tough sentences for violent and serious crimes.

Lametti had a dinner meeting with Tsilhqot’in leadership at the South Lakeside office in Williams Lake.

Tl’esqox First Nation Chief Francis Laceese said Lametti is one of the ministers the Tsilhqot’in chiefs have met with quite often.

“It was a continuation of some of the things we are working on and looking forward to with other initiatives,” he said. “They are working on UNDRIP on the federal level and fairly soon they will be putting out a five-year action plan. The province just finished doing that.”

The Tsilhqot’in National Government is also in negotiations over the next four or five years with both levels of government.

“With title it’s new for the governments, industry and everyone else. We meet with Horgan and ministers quite often, and with Lametti, Trudeau and his ministers in Ottawa,” Laceese said. “We signed a pathway agreement before and that was the start of UNDRIP then. Both levels of government they really want to work with us to make change.”

Listing some of the initiatives the TNG have been working on, Laceese said the ranger program is expanding, they have a “world-class” fisheries team, new housing starts, an equine program, women’s council, Tsilhqot’in laws and governance and an emergency tripartite agreements signed with B.C. and Canada.

READ MORE: Tsilhqot’in Nation and UBC researchers release comprehensive COVID-19 report

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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