September 30, 2021 marks the first time that Canadians will be marking the new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day is also marked as Orange Shirt Day across the country as people are encouraged to wear an orange shirt and reflect on the experiences of Indigenous children – those who survived and those who did not – who were sent to residential schools across the country where their culture and identity was stripped away.
To mark September 30th, we are all encouraged to take some time to reflect on the truth of the treatment that Indigenous people have encountered throughout our country’s history. This blog post will provide a few suggestions on resources you can explore that will help you to understand the experiences of the Indigenous community with a view towards reconciliation.
According to the Government of Canada’s website:
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation honours the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.
The creation of this federal statutory holiday was through legislative amendments made by Parliament. On June 3, 2021, Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation) received Royal Assent.
Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day that honours the children who survived Indian Residential Schools and remembers those who did not. This day relates to the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, on her first day of school, where she arrived dressed in a new orange shirt, which was taken from her. It is now a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations. Check out the official website for Orange Shirt Day here: https://www.orangeshirtday.org/
There were 140 federally run Indian Residential Schools which operated in Canada between 1831 and 1998. The last school closed only 23 years ago. Survivors advocated for recognition and reparations and demanded accountability for the lasting legacy of harms caused. These efforts culminated in:
- the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
- apologies by the government
- the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- the creation of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission ran from 2008 to 2015 and provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools policy with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has become the permanent archive for the statements, documents and other materials the Commission gathered, and its library and collections are the foundation for ongoing learning and research.
The Commission released its final report detailing 94 calls to action. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a direct response to Call to Action 80, which called for a federal statutory day of commemoration.
What can you do on September 30th?
Locally, there are so many things happening on September 30th and I recommend that you take advantage of these to really get an understanding of our local Indigenous community.
The City of St. Catharines is pleased to partner with the Niagara Regional Native Centre (NRNC) in hosting a collaborative event at City Hall at 10:00 am on Thursday September 30, 2021. The event will include various guest speakers, an Orange Flag presentation and provide the opportunity for the community to learn the truth about residential schools.
The focus of the event will be on amplifying Indigenous voices, learning the truth, and healing together as a community. The event will adhere to Covid-19 protocols put in place by Public Health. The event will be livestreamed at: https://www.facebook.com/NiagaraRegionalNativeCentre/ and at https://www.facebook.com/MayorSendzik/. The event will also be recorded so even if you can’t attend, you can still view it at a later date.
If you are looking for things from home, here are a couple of resources I recommend, in addition to the ones already mentioned:
The Indigenous People’s Atlas of Canada is an interesting project with some really amazing visuals and maps that take you on a journey through many parts of Indigenous life today and in the past: https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/
Take some time to learn more about treaty making in Canada and its impact here: https://www.rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca/eng/1100100028574/1529354437231
An important document that speaks to the treatment and recognition of Indigenous rights across the world is the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). You can find that document here: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/declaration/read-lire.html
Finally, if you didn’t have a chance to see our blog post from last year about Indigenous History Month, check it out here: https://stcatharinesmuseumblog.com/2020/06/21/indigenous-history-month-suggested-reading/. There are a bunch of reading suggestions that will help you learn more on this subject.
Kathleen Powell is the Supervisor of Historical Services / Curator at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.