What is the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation?
By Erin Rebello
September 30th, 2021 marked Canada’s first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This long-overdue day was proposed by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a way to pay respects to Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Although there are many different meanings to what “truth and reconciliation” means, the overarching aim of the day is to recognize the struggles Indigenous Canadians have faced along with honouring the memories of the victims of residential schools.
What are Residential Schools?
In the 1880’s, just a few decades after Canada was established as a country, the Canadian government and various Church denominations established boarding schools across the country specifically for Indigenous students. Although school might not seem like such a bad thing, it is important to realize that residential schools are not like the schools we attend today. Indigenous children as young as 4 years old were ripped away from their families and cultures and forced to attend residential schools. Instead of learning about their language and heritage, they were forced to speak English and were punished for speaking their mother tongue. The residential school system was absolutely brutal, and many children did not go home. The goal of residential schools was to assimilate Indigenous students and rid them of their precious culture; it was genocide.
Impacts to This Day
Residential schools seem like a faraway concept, but it’s important to note that the last residential school closed in 1996 – only 25 years ago. Furthermore, the impact of over a century of residential schools has had a profound impact on the Indigenous communities to this day. A significant portion of the Indigenous community have relatives or family members who endured years of abuse at the hands of residential schools, resulting in intergenerational trauma. The Canadian government has also been locked in years of legal battles against residential school survivors, preventing them from accessing documentation of their treatment at residential schools. Millions of dollars have been spent on these battles, money that could have instead been invested in improving Indigenous healthcare services or increasing access to drinking water on reserves. Although residential schools may have been abolished, there are still systematic ripples and trauma for Indigenous Canadians.
What Can We Do?
The best way to support Indigenous communities is by listening to what they have to say, which is exactly what the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is all about. Rather than making assumptions or doing what governments or politicians think is best, it is crucial that we spotlight Inidgenous leaders and activists, learning about what solutions they have to help with the healing of their communities. We must also be open to learning and gaining new perspectives. Much of the education we have received regarding Canada’s Indigenous peoples is highly biased and incomplete. For this reason, it’s important to do our own research and educate ourselves from reputable sources. We must also put the knowledge we have gained to good use, by using our voices and platforms to amplify and spotlight Indigenous issues. Although you may not be able to vote yet, it would also be helpful to be more aware of Canadian politics, understanding how our leaders plan to make Canada a more welcoming space for Indigenous peoples.
Overall, the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation sends a clear message that we have a long road ahead on the path to equality for Indigenous peoples. Despite the barriers that stand in our way, it is our duty as Canadians to listen, learn, and fight for the rights of our Indigenous brothers and sisters.
Brault, Simon, and Jesse Wente. “The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.” The Canada Council. https://canadacouncil.ca/spotlight/2021/09/the-national-day-for-truth-and-reconciliation.
First Nations & Indigenous Studies, The University of British Columbia. “The Residential School System.” https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_residential_school_system/.