Thursday Sept. 30 is a new federal holiday: the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — billed by Ottawa as an opportunity to ‘recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools (through) a day of quiet reflection or participation in a community event.’
It’s also Orange Shirt Day, marked since 2013 to honour residential-school survivors and those who didn’t make it home. And to ask non-Indigenous Canadians to learn about and reflect on what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called the “cultural genocide” in the residential schools.
To the First Nations LNG Alliance, this is absolutely not your typical take-a-day-off-work federal holiday.
It can and should be a stepping stone on the Road to Reconciliation, and a road to “reconciliaction.”
And the road to closing the stunning gap between the economic status of Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous people in Canada. That needs urgently to be addressed, along with addressing Indigenous rights as part of reconciliation.
There will be local events on Sept. 30 in many First Nations communities, and some that hope to be seen online across Canada.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc Nation in BC has a more ambitious plan, and invitation. It hopes its Drum for the Children event will be joined, seen and heard all over the world, Sept. 30, at 2:15pm Pacific.
“Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc calls on people worldwide to drum simultaneously for the missing children of Indian Residential Schools.”
And for the healing of residential-school survivors and the families and communities whose children did not come home.
(In May, the Nation announced that a survey of the grounds at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School had found as many as 215 potential unmarked burial sites.
Since then, many more have been found at other residential school sites in Canada.)
“To sing and drum in unity, we invite you to learn the Secwepemc Honour Song. It is a song that we like to sing at many gatherings. We’ve included the vocables in the video so you can easily follow along as you learn it.” Here is that video:
We have online a list of events on, or related to, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day.
But the day is not about events. It is, and should be, about thought and reflection on the horrific legacy — and the horrific federal policy that gave birth to the residential schools and their system.
Prime Minister John A. Macdonald declared in 1879: “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. . . . Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”
Inuit and Métis children were also taken from their families and forced into residential schools.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) estimated that between 4,000 and 6,000 children died in the schools. Causes of death included physical abuse, malnutrition, disease, and neglect. Others died by suicide, or by trying to escape the schools. There may well have been many more.
The schools and their legacy must remain top of mind for the people of Canada, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, and for governments at all levels.
On Sept. 30, may they all step up, and take a positive step forward on the Road to Reconciliation. And then take more steps, as the road is a long one.
The TRC in 2015 listed 94 Calls to Action. The road could start with them.
And the Assembly of First Nations has issued an education toolkit that includes the history of the residential school system, and its impacts on Indigenous people.
We close our appeal with these words of wisdom from Murray Sinclair, retired senator and Indigenous leader:
“My colleague Marie Wilson, one of the TRC commissioners, was always fond of saying that reconciliation is not a spectator sport. You have to do something. So, many people took that to heart and are doing something.
“Whatever it is, whether it’s wearing a shirt or talking to their kids or sending money to a good Indigenous cause, they’re doing something and those things are good.
“But those who have more power have more responsibility. So that means that everybody has to convince them to use their power wisely, to use their privilege wisely, to be more open to recognizing the impact that they can have.
“This is a situation where the perpetrator himself has to understand what they have done wrong, what they must do right and therefore take action in that way.
“I always tell people, imagine if the tables were turned in the sense that this had happened to you. If your children had been taken away. What would you want to do about that?”
- Audio: Murray Sinclair reflects on the journey to reconciliation: http://ow.ly/VNwa50GgHHj
- Audio: National Chief RoseAnne Archibald of the Assembly of First Nations on the ‘Healing Path Forward’: http://ow.ly/JvjM50GgHGD
Let us remember. Let us reflect. Let us act.