NATIONAL DAY FOR TRUTH & RECONCILIATION
About National Day For Truth & Reconciliation
September 30th is recognized as The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation each year. In Canada, this day is now a statutory holiday. The significance of this holiday is to honour, learn and unlearn about Canada’s dark history with Indigenous people from coast to coast, including all the atrocities committed under Canada's Indian Act. The day is about honouring the innocent children who didn't make it home, as well as the survivors who did.
The National Day for Truth & Reconciliation also shines a spotlight on the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Each Canadian is encouraged to use the day to educate themselves on the past, the present and the future of relations and rights with Indigenous communities/peoples in Canada.
About the TRC & Calls To Action
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission ran from 2008 to 2015 and provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the residential schools' policy with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences. The Commission heard from 6,500 witnesses from all over Canada. The historical record they created is housed at The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. 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.
About Residential Schools in Canada
Canada's Church-run, government-funded residential school system was created for the purpose of separating Indigenous children from their parents, communities, and culture and to aggressively assimilate them into the dominant European society. The residential school system officially operated from the 1880s into the closing decades of the 20th century, with the last school closing as recently as 1996. Children as young as seven and until they reached the age of 16 attended these schools. Attendance was compulsory, and agents were employed by the government to ensure the children attended. Children were often forcibly removed from their communities, and their families were threatened with fines or jail time if they failed to send their children. Many children didn't have any contact with their families for ten months at a time and, in some cases, years.
At the peak of the program in the 1930s, there were 80 residential schools in operation. Over the entire time period in which they existed, the schools numbered over 130. It is estimated that 150,000 children went through the system. Of this number, 80,000 of these survivors are still alive today. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, a group that led the investigation into residential schools, confirmed 3,200 child deaths. However, because of poor record keeping and destroyed files, the exact number will never be known. A reasonable estimate puts that number closer to 6,000.
The children died from disease and malnutrition at these schools. Some residential schools had a 60 percent mortality rate. Some students were subjected to science experiments. Children were subjected to abuse at the hands of the staff and administrators, often physically, always emotionally, and sometimes sexually. The experiences of the children at these schools were hidden for many decades until Indigenous people found the strength, courage and support to bring them to light. Stories of the student's time at these schools are heartrending. Ripped from their loving families at age seven and taken to an industrial-sized institution, the first order of business was to separate them from any siblings or friends, strip the children of their clothes and belongings, literally, and de-louse them whether they needed it or not. They then had their hair cut off, which in Indigenous culture was especially traumatic as long hair holds spiritual significance. They were given uniforms, and their native clothing were thrown in the garbage. That was just Day 1.
For the children, life at these schools was unfamiliar, lonely and often terrifying. They were not permitted to speak their language. They had to learn English or French only. So until they learned it, they could not communicate with anyone. The schools were usually underfunded. Therefore, many children were forced into labour to maintain the facilities. The full extent of the abuse suffered by the children is only now coming to light. What is known is that throughout the years, all students lived in substandard conditions, suffered many types of abuses, and were completely disassociated from their families and culture, thereby experiencing cultural genocide.
Despite the fact that this dark chapter in Canada's history is now exposed, it does not bring the legacy of residential schools to an end. The impacts of forced disassociation from culture, disruption of families and communities, humiliation and improper health and living conditions at these schools has been the cause of inter-generational trauma and won't be fixed with a settlement or an apology. Children who were abused went on to abuse others. Many developed addictions as a means of coping. Many who were treated like prisoners in the schools ended up in prisons in their adult life. The children of survivors, their partners, their grandchildren, extended families and communities were and are all impacted. It will take generations to properly heal from the legacy of residential schools.
To learn more about residential schools, visit the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website.
About The Orange Shirt Day Movement
Orange Shirt Day was born from the stories of residential school survivors. Specifically, former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad. She told her story of her first day at residential school when her shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken from her as a six-year old girl.
Read Phyllis' story here.
September 30th was chosen to be Orange Shirt Day because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. It is an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.
To learn more about Orange Shirt Day, visit orangeshirtday.org/