UPDATE: “I am so, so sorry”: MP Zimmer to vigil organizer on MMIWG comments

UPDATE: article includes further comments from Connie Greyeyes. FORT ST. JOHN, B.C.- There were many takeaways…

UPDATE: article includes further comments from Connie Greyeyes.

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C.- There were many takeaways from Friday’s vigil, honouring the 215 children found at a former Kamloops residential school, including an apology from a local MP for comments made in the past.

Hundreds listened intently as the drums banged, guests were treated to songs that they will probably never hear again, stories detailing the tragic happenings of an archaic system, and calls for action from the government. Unfortunately, however, an apology from MP Bob Zimmer, which many have been waiting for since his comments in 2015, happened when most guests had left the event.

“One of the major drivers of missing and murdered aboriginal women is the lack of economic activity, or simply put, the lack of a job. … Ultimately, when people have a job, they’re not in despair. They can stay on reserve, and that’s where we want them to be,” said Zimmer during a 2015 all-candidates forum in Fort St. John.

Connie Greyeyes,  Northern Case Manager for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) through the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, co-organized and hosted Friday’s vigil. In between songs and speeches, she spoke on understanding the tragedies that had taken place to Indigenous people for decades and called out racism, and prejudice in the community. Greyeyes has also called out Zimmer in the past and didn’t intend for him to speak during the event.

“This is the perfect opportunity, Bob, for us to have that conversation about the things that you’ve said in the past,” said Greyeyes. “…about missing and murdered women and girls and how we should stay on reserve, get a job, and then we would be happy. And that’s right where you want us. I really think that now is your opportunity.”

Greyeyes said she originally declined Zimmer’s request to speak, but “an Indigenous man pointed to Bob and that he wanted to”.

“I want to say sorry and as the representative of the government, too. I think for everybody that’s here that’s a victim of residential schools, we’re sorry,” said MP Bob Zimmer, who was cut off by an individual stating, “we’re not victims, we’re survivors.”

“Exactly. I just wanted to say this on behalf of everybody. And I think that’s where hopefully, healing can happen.”

“I have four children of my own. As [Mayor Lori Ackerman] said, ‘how would you feel about your own children going away and never coming home?’ I’m so, so sorry, Connie, and I want to say thank you for doing this. And we appreciate you, and every child does matter.”

After his comments in 2015, Zimmer told CBC News that they were taken out of context and that he “absolutely cares” about MMIWG.

Zimmer was also called on to push for the Canadian government to release documents related to the residential school system.

The government destroyed documents dating between 1936 and 1944, including 200,000 Indian Affairs files.

Greyeyes says she was pleased Zimmer had the courage to speak and make an apology.

“I felt that he had the opportunity to see the pain that residential prisons have caused our people over decades and perhaps he might feel differently now. That was my intention of the vigil to begin with— to have people that came understand what happened, hear survivors’ stories and perhaps make that shift that is needed to happen in order for us to begin reconciliation.”

Now, Greyeyes believes he needs to put his words into action.

Another local politician made their mark on the night, Mayor Lori Ackerman, spoke about an agenda item coming to council on June 14th.

“If an organization or an agency that is applying for funding was part of the residential school system and has yet to make amends, they are not welcome to use our funds,” said Ackerman referring to the city’s new community foundation.

The vigil took place to honour and mourn the 215 bodies of children found on the Kamloops Indian Residential School grounds by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation leadership last week.

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