Content warning: missing children, colonial violence, residential schools
In June 2021, shortly after the harrowing discovery of the bodies of 215 Indigenous Children were found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School, the senate passed a bill to mark September 30 as Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Since then, the number of childrens’ bodies recovered has grown to over 1,000 with more discoveries anticipated as varying reports indicate closer to 4,000 - 6,000 lives lost at the hands of residential 'schools'; a tragic reality that has deeply impacted Indigenous communities for over a century.
The creation of this statutory holiday is a response to call number 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action Report, for a designated day 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”.
This new National Day of Observance coincides with Orange Shirt Day – an Indigenous-led grassroots initiative named to mark the experience of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a residential ‘school’ survivor from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation, who was stripped of her beloved orange shirt, her sense of self-worth, her community, identity and so much more.
Orange Shirt Day signifies how Phyllis’ experience is representative of the greater harm inflicted on Indigenous children subjected to the residential ‘school’ system and the intergenerational trauma that continues today. The tradition of wearing an orange shirt to honor Phyllis and every child harmed by the residential 'school' system, and the spirit of this initiative, continues forward to this new National Day of Observance.
While the focus of the day is on remembrance of the detrimental personal and cultural legacy of residential 'schools', it also poses an opportunity to examine the broader history of colonization and white supremacy in our country and how these systems continue to oppress Indigenous Canadians and other equity seeking groups. In London alone, a recent report shows that Indigenous communities disproportionately face racism even above other equity deserving groups. This day also presents an annual reminder to consider our individual and collective progress towards the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action – to date only 13 of 94 have been completed since 2015.
The day is a call to all people in Canada to once and for all learn and do better when it comes to standing with Indigenous communities in our lives and in our work. There is no room for any one of us to resign and say we weren’t taught in our own schools, it’s our collective responsibility to do the work of engaging in our own learning and listening to the voices and experiences of Indigenous communities in a way that does not inflict further harm or put the burden of educating upon them.
For our own network, today is an opportunity to reflect on how, as a sector, we can’t truly move forward in our equity and inclusion efforts until we prioritize reconciliation with the first peoples of the land we all inhabit. As a sector focused on improving outcomes for equity deserving groups and creating solutions to systemic inequities, this is critically important to understand and carry forward in our work. Acknowledging that we are all on a spectrum of our learning journey, and that the work continues long after a day of observance, the Pillar team has aggregated a list of resources to share what we are reflecting on as a team and as individuals in our commitment to reconciliation, today and beyond.
On Demand Mini Courses: Territorial Acknowledgements, Cultural Protocols, Empathy & Safety, Decolonizing Practices, Restorying Colonialism, Etiquette for Allies, and/or Decolonizing Identity 101. - Nahanee Creative
Please see our article Respect, Reconciliation and Community-Based Action for additional resources.