Marking the First National Truth and Reconciliation Day

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, September 29, 2021

A message from Dr. Jason Hickey, MSSU Science Lead for Indigenous Allyship and Engagement

Earlier this year, the Canadian Government passed Bill C-5 to create the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30—a date selected to commemorate Orange Shirt Day.

Orange-shirt day began as a grassroots, Indigenous-led movement to honour the experiences of Indigenous children and families who were subjected to the residential school system. The orange shirt is significant as it relates to the story of one young girl, Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation. Phyllis arrived at Mission residential school at the age of 6 wearing a brand-new orange shirt that her grandmother had bought for her. On her arrival at the school, her clothes were taken off her body and she never saw the orange shirt again. 

While the creation of statutory federal holiday is encouraging and demonstrates that our government is giving some attention to this important topic, I also find it concerning. A ‘holiday’ is a time to celebrate, but the suffering that families experienced because of residential schools, and the impact that suffering continues to have today, is certainly not something to be celebrated. It’s also not something to give thanks for. I worry that many people will enjoy what they feel is a well-deserved day off work and spend the day in ignorance of the abuse and suffering that led to their personal enjoyment.

Instead, this should be a day for solemn remembrance. It is an opportunity to share the truth about the trauma and harm inflicted by residential schools in Canada, and the racist policies and practices that continue to impact Indigenous people and communities today.

This is hard to write about and hard to hear about, but it’s important that we do. Sharing truth is a critical step towards reconciliation, but it is also only a beginning. I encourage you all to mark the day by listening, reading, learning, and reflecting on our responsibilities as Treaty People.

Below are some of the many available resources for reflection, along with links to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation reports.

Reflecting on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Readings

Resources

  • The Wabanaki Collection 
    Run by the University of New Brunswick’s Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre and created under the guidance of Elder Dave Perley, the Wabanaki Collection maintains a curated collection of  resources that honours Indigenous perspectives and supports relationship building between the educators, the public and the Indigenous peoples of Wabanaki which include the Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, Abenaki, Penobscot and Passamaquoddy.
  • Under One Sky Friendship Centre – Talking to Children About Residential Schools
    Under One Sky Friendship Centre has produced a resource list to support engaging children and youth in the reconciliation process.