September 30th marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation across Canada. The motion to set the day aside, on a national level, was supported unanimously in The House of Commons earlier this year in June. Each province has made varying decisions on how to take time to reflect on the effects Residential Schools have had on Indigenous People for many generations.
Call to Action #80 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report was to,“call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
The creation of this national day was preceded by the observance of "Orange Shirt Day" started in 2013 by Phyllis (Jack) Webstad. Her story recalls her Grandmother giving her a new orange shirt to wear to Residential School and upon arriving there, it was stripped from her, never to be seen again. On the Orange Shirt Day website, she recalls how this made her feel.
"The colour orange has always reminded me of that, and how my feelings didn't matter, how no one cared, and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying, and no one cared."
Orange Shirt Day has seen many people across Canada participate over the last eight years.
Raymond Frogner, Head of Archives for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, says the national day set aside this year is timely with the recent uncovering of unmarked graves at former Residential School sites across Canada.
"First of all, I would say, given the context of events that have happened this year, with the discovery of unmarked burials in multiple former locations of residential schools, Kuper Island, Tk'emlúps, Cowessess, etc, I would say that we are, as a nation, still in a state of mourning. That these discoveries are discoveries that have been well known in these local communities, they've been passed on through oral histories, they've even been discussed in local media, but it wasn't until this year we finally came face to face with the reality of what exactly that means."
Frogner noted the road to reconciliation is not a one-day event.
"Murray Sinclair once made this observation, that it took about seven generations to deconstruct Indigenous communities, removing children from families, trying to erase their cultures and identities. It could take another seven generations to work it back up again. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We're in a point of revitalizing these communities, to recognize the value in this diversity, the value in Indigenous understandings of the world, and how they can contribute to the welfare of the globe and the country itself. "
Frogner added the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a good opportunity for reflective discussions and learning.
"If you have families, this would be a good teaching moment for your children, to think of the fact these were 150,000 children over the course of a century that were removed from their families, and put in these isolating residential schools. It would be a teachable moment if parents could have their children reflect on this reality, and what it would mean, how we could better understand, going forward, what kind of educational program we could have that might include these kinds of stories."
He shared how the day can be viewed now and into the future.
"Looking forward, it should be thought of as a day of reconciliation and day of potential. The experience of Residential School is so often thought of as completely black, and it was, without doubt, a horrible experience for survivors, and it was a crime and a violation of Human Rights by the Canadian state. But what we all should remember also is these communities have persevered. They have retained their identities, and they are now looking forward to resetting the relationship, to healing, and to building on the potential of a new path going forward, walking side by side with the Canadian state as recognized equals that share mutual interests, but also share interests in self-determining their own futures."
He continued by noting people might want to ask themselves some reflective questions throughout the day when thinking about what kind of relationship we should have or build with our Indigenous communities.
"How do we want it to look? How do we want it to operate? How do we want it to function? This might be the first time we've actually had a day to consider these questions, this might actually be a good time to think about how we want to see going forward this new relationship based on principles of equality, human rights, and dignity."
Frogner reinforced that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is for all Canadians.
"As many elders have pointed out, in these kinds of interviews, we are really Treaty Peoples. At the time of contact when discussions were held regarding the relationship between the colonizers and the societies that were on the ground, there were treaties struck that were mutually recognizing the values of each group, that there were going to be concerns for security, welfare and education of Indigenous communities, and that the relationships going forward would be between equal groups, equal communities, equal society, and if we could get back to those original treaty agreements and understandings, I think that would be a first step toward reconstructing the relationship between settlers and Indigenous Peoples."
There are many various resources to learn more about The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (link: https://nctr.ca)
The following video was produced by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, and presents the experiences of residential school survivors in their words.