Today, September 30, marks National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. In 2021, it became a federal statutory holiday due to legislative amendments in Parliament. The purpose of the holiday is to honour Indigenous children who never returned home, as well as Survivors of the residential school system, their families, and their communities.
The residential school system was in place from the 1880s to the 1990s. Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their family homes for long periods of time, and while attending, they weren’t allowed to acknowledge their Indigenous heritage and culture, or speak in their first languages. The residential school system was a collaboration between the government and the Catholic church, and the main objective was indoctrination of Indigenous youth into Euro-Canadian and Christian ways of living.
If students broke any of the rules, they were severely punished. Survivors have spoken about all kinds of abuse that they suffered at the hands of staff, ranging from physical to psychological. The education itself was weak and improper, often directed at lower grade levels, and focused mainly on prayer and manual labour. It is also widely considered to be a form of genocide because of the focus on eradicating Indigenous culture and traditions.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
The TRC was created through a legal settlement between the Survivors of the residential system, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives, and those responsible for the creation and operation of residential schools (i.e. the federal government and church bodies).
The main goal of the TRC’s mandate was to inform all Canadians about what happened in residential schools through documentation of Survivors’ accounts, as well as their families, fellow community members, and anyone else personally affected by the system. The mandate concluded in 2015, and all records were transferred to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) for safekeeping.
Orange Shirt Day
September 30 is also Orange Shirt Day. This grassroots commemorative day is an Indigenous-led initiative to raise awareness about the intergenerational impact residential schools have on individuals, families, and communities.
The orange shirt symbolizes the stripping away of culture, freedom, and self-esteem that Indigenous children experience. It’s also a reminder of the program’s slogan: Every Child Matters.
“We cannot erase the mistakes of the past, but we can ensure that they will never be repeated or forgotten. It is vital that we take a moment to think about and honour the Survivors, their families and their communities.”
—Yasir Naqvi, Member of Parliament (Ottawa Centre)
Events across Canada
Beginning at 7 p.m. tonight, Parliament Hill in Ottawa will be illuminated until sunrise on October 1. Other federal buildings will be included. There will also be a national commemorative gathering broadcast live from LeBreton Flats in Ottawa beginning at 1 p.m. ET on all APTN channels and other Canadian broadcasters. The broadcast is called Remembering the Children: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and will focus on the words and experiences of residential school Survivors.
“Truth and Reconciliation Week and the second official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation are moments to listen thoughtfully and sincerely to the Survivors as they share their truths so we may build a future for generations to come.”
—Eugene Arcand, residential school Survivor
Starting on Monday of this week, elementary-aged students participated in Truth and Reconciliation Week. This is a bilingual education program that offers virtual sessions for teachers to use in the classroom. Investments of more than $4 million dollars were made to support the LeBreton Flats gathering, this week’s educational programming, and 278 community projects across Canada.
Acknowledging and commemorating our country’s history and the impact of the residential school system on several generations of Indigenous people is a small but necessary step in our journey towards healing and reconciliation.
What we’re doing at Blu Ivy
As a remote-first organization, we’ll be gathering as a team virtually to reflect on the meaning of this day and ask questions about truth and reconciliation and learn more about the outcomes and Indigenous communities whose land we live on.
We’ll be joined by Mary Wildman, an Indigenous woman from Curve Lake First Nations in Southern Ontario, Canada. She is passionate about her advocacy work with Indigenous communities and for those affected by the child welfare system. Mary is part of the International Indigenous Speakers Bureau (IISB) and hopes to gain new partnerships for supporting Indigenous individuals in the future.
As an organization based in Canada, with the privilege to live and work on the land that belongs to our Indigenous community members, it is imperative that we keep learning and enable our team to participate in conversations or actions that positively impact those we share these spaces with.
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