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  • Glauce Fleury

Truth and Reconciliation: a day for education, reflection and mourning

WARNING: This piece contains disturbing details.

September 30 recognizes both Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Though not all provinces and territories have designated this date as a statutory holiday, some of us may not be working and may choose to join activities to honour Indigenous peoples. It may be a day for some of us to educate ourselves, reflect or mourn.

The National Day is the result of call to action #80 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, which calls upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish a statutory holiday “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.”

Orange Shirt Day honours the Indigenous children who died in Canada’s residential schools and those who survived and whose families continue to feel intergenerational trauma. The residential school system was funded by the federal government, operated in all parts of Canada and run by churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, Methodist and Presbyterian were the major denominations involved. More than 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in one of the 140 schools. Parents could be fined or jailed if they tried to keep their kids at home.

The Canadian government aimed to force Indigenous children to assimilate to the Euro-Canadian society, consequently erasing their culture and stopping its transmission between generations. That included their languages, spiritual beliefs and traditions. The first government-funded residential schools were opened in the 1870s and the last school closed in 1996 in Saskatchewan. While in Canada’s residential schools, many children suffered physical, psychological and sexual abuse, which has led to post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor syndrome and intergenerational trauma.

WHY ORANGE SHIRT? September 30 was chosen as the date to honour Indigenous children because it’s the time of year when they were taken from home. We call it Orange Shirt Day because of Phyllis Webstad's story. She went to a residential school when she was six. Her grandma bought her a shiny orange shirt for her first day. When she arrived at the school, the staff stripped her and took away her clothes, including the shirt. Phyllis is Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band). She comes from mixed Secwepemc and Irish/French heritage, and is the Executive Director of the Orange Shirt Society. TAKE ACTION To read: Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (EN) Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (FR) 150 Acts of Reconciliation you can do without depending on external factors To watch: We Were Children by Tim Wolochatiuk To support: Indian Residential School Survivors Society - Donate online How to support survivors of residential schools - CTV News To learn: Indian Residential School Survivors Society CBC News | Indigenous


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