September 30, 2021, marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.
September 30th gives us a chance to recognize and commemorate the intergenerational harm that residential schools caused to Indigenous families and communities, and to honour those who have been affected by this injustice.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recognized that more than 100 years of Canada’s Aboriginal policy mandated the removal of children from their families and forced them to attend residential schools and was best described as ‘cultural genocide.’
From the late 1800s to 1996, more than 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools. Many never returned home! Since the 215 unmarked graves were found in Kamloops, hundred’s more unmarked graves have been identified at residential schools across Canada. (The TRC Final Report estimates there are more than 6,000 unmarked graves.).
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation calls upon all of us to examine the importance of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in Canada. For there to be reconciliation, we must learn and speak the truth! Whether it be through reflection, participating in community events, or sharing conversations, we encourage you to recognize the legacy of residential schools and honour the survivors and victims.
Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor, was stripped of her new orange shirt on her first day at St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C. Her orange shirt was never seen again. To commemorate that every child matters, Thursday, September 30th is also recognized as “Orange Shirt Day” where we join together in wearing orange shirts to honour and remember the experiences and loss of First Nation, Inuit and Métis children.
As Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the TRC, notes in the TRC’s Final Report: “Reconciliation will not be easy and it will take time, but to make it happen, we must believe it should happen… All people in Canada, including newcomers, have a role in this relationship-building process. While we may not all share a past connected to the residential schools, we share a future. We must all call for an ongoing process of reconciliation, regardless of political affiliation, cultural background, or personal history”.
It is also our duty to help repair the damage. We cannot let this day be simply symbolic. We should use it to pause, to learn, and be an ally. Most importantly, we should use September 30th to inspire action and work for systemic balance for all.
In solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters, we must work toward dismantling inequities in organizations, communities, and within Canada.
As an Indigenous Ally, please take this day and every day to learn more about the historical and current realities of Indigenous People.