The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was September 30th: Reflecting on what’s been done and what more needs to happen
By Avreet Jagdev
September 30th 2022 marked Canada’s second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is a day dedicated to remembering the children who were never able to return home from residential schools, the survivors who did, and their families and communities. It is a day on which we reflect on Canada’s history, and learn from it.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation coincides with Orange Shirt Day, which has been celebrated in Canada since 2013. On September 30th, we wear orange to remember the story of Phyllis Jack Webstad. When Phyllis was six years old, her grandmother bought her a new orange shirt before she left for a residential school. When she arrived at the school, Phyllis was stripped of her clothing and her orange shirt was taken away. She was never able to wear it again.
Phyliss’ story represents the hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children who were harmed by Canada’s residential school system. And although the last federally-run residential school closed in 1996, the long–term effects are as rampant as ever.
So what has been done thus far, in an effort to reconcile?
In 1986, the United Church of Canada apologized for its part in the residential school system, followed by the Anglican Church in 1992. However, many consider these apologies to be hollow, as residential schools existed for years thereafter.
In 1991, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) was established in order to “investigate and propose solutions to” the relationship between Indigenous communities and the rest of Canadian society, including the Canadian government and non-Indigenous Canadians.
After the RCAP’s first report was published, the government made an official statement of reconciliation and established the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. This foundation is not-for-profit, Indigenous managed, and dedicated to “responding to the legacy of residential schools in Canada and the associated community health impacts”.
In 2008, Prime Minister Harper apologized for the residential school system on behalf of the Canadian cabinet, and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This commission is dedicated to uncovering what really took place in residential schools.
In 2015, it released its report stating that residential schools were a “cultural genocide”: they resulted in a poorly-educated and low-income Indigenous population, as well as long-term generational trauma due to the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse that took place at these schools.
In 2021, after the bodies of thousands of Indigenous children were found at sites of old residential schools, Canada made National Day of Truth and Reconciliation a statutory holiday.
What needs to be done moving forward?
Even today, many Indigenous communities across the country don’t have access to things as basic as clean drinking water. These communities must resort to boiling tap water, or relying on expensive shipments of bottled water. In a country as prosperous as Canada, this is absolutely unacceptable.
For more information on the Indigenous water crisis and how you can help, check out the recent JPD article on the issue.
Another example of Canada’s neglect of Indigenous communities is Grassy Narrows, which has been through a number of traumas. These include:
- “forced attendance in church-run residential schools”
- “coerced relocation away from their traditional living areas”
- “hydro damming flooding sacred sites and wild rice beds”
- “clearcut logging of their forests”
- mercury contamination
Many of these issues, particularly the mercury contamination, are ongoing and causing active harm to the Indigenous peoples.
Instances such as these have been continually swept under the rug, despite the fact that they are actively damaging Indigenous communities. It is important that Canada acknowledges them and takes action towards resolving them.
Reconciliation consists of a lot more than creating commissions and statutory holidays. It is about listening to Indigenous communities, considering their needs, and taking appropriate action. Although Canada has taken steps in the right direction, we have quite a way to go.