Today in Canada we are observing the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day, a new federal statutory holiday that was fast-tracked through Parliament in June after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed the discovery of the remains of over 200 children at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. A few weeks later, another discovery was announced by the Cowessess First Nation at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan. There have since been even more discoveries and there will continue to be more discoveries. It is genocide and the evidence is all over this country.
National Truth and Reconciliation Day was one of the 94 calls to action (link opens PDF) that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission put forward to the federal government in 2015. The purpose of National Truth and Reconciliation Day is to remember survivors and their families, and to “ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process”.
If you are visiting today from outside Canada, I hope you can stay to read the rest of this post. Because everyone should know what is happening in Canada, how for decades, with the approval of the Canadian government and managed by Catholic churches and other religious organisations from different denominations, Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their communities in an attempt to erase their culture and heritage. They were abused, tortured, and even killed. This is not the past. This is still our present, the last residential school only closed in 1996, and we continue to see the devastating consequences of this generational trauma.
September 30 was chosen as National Truth and Reconciliation Day because it’s also known as Orange Shirt Day. Orange Shirt Day started in 2013, inspired by Phyllis Webstad. Phyllis’s grandmother took her to town in the summer of 1973 to buy a new shirt. Phyllis was six years old and she loved her orange shirt. At the time, she was excited to wear it to school, not knowing what she would eventually experience there. Her shirt was taken away, she never wore it again, she wasn’t allowed anything that would connect her to her family, to her community, to her people. You can learn more about Phyllis and the Orange Shirt story here.
In preparation for National Truth and Reconciliation Day, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation unveiled the Survivors’ Flag. Please follow that link or the links provided in the Instagram post below to learn about how the flag came together and the meaning behind the symbols.
A new primetime special will broadcast and stream live tonight at 8pm ET on APTN, CBC, CBC Gem, ICI TÉLÉ, and ICI TOU.TV. It will air commercial-free, honouring “the stories and perspectives of Indigenous Peoples affected by the tragedies of the residential school system in Canada, with musical tributes and ceremonies in Indigenous communities across the land”.
We are meant today to spend time learning more about how Indigenous people have been treated on their own lands, how they have suffered for centuries because of colonisation and white supremacy, to remember the families who have been broken, and honour the resilience of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. We can do this by knowing their stories as we reflect on how we can be part of the healing process. As Cree author David A Robertson wrote:
"It can no longer be disputed that the residential school system was genocide. And the question now is: what are you going to do about it? I think the answer starts with stories. Stories have been, and always will be, the best way to educate ourselves about the truth."
Earlier this year, Robertson curated a list of 48 books by Indigenous authors to help others understand more about the impact of residential schools. You can find the list here. I am currently reading In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Mosionier. It’s about two sisters who are separated and sent to live in different foster homes. Their experiences are different, they choose different paths, but they are bonded by what they share, which cannot be torn apart. This book is a Canadian classic, frankly I’m ashamed that I’m only just now learning this.
And that’s the point – for far too long, most of us in Canada have ignored Indigenous stories and been ignorant about Indigenous experiences; this makes us complacent. National Truth and Reconciliation Day was established so that we can, together, do the work and, hopefully, move forward with understanding.
We will return to our regular schedule tomorrow.
Yours in gossip,