Today, September 30th marks our first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day honours the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities, and fulfills recommendation #80 of Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls for action.
September 30th is also Orange Shirt Day, started in 2013 by a remarkable and courageous woman – Phyllis Webstad. It commemorates the story of a young child, wearing a new orange shirt given by her grandmother to wear on her first day of school. On arrival, she was stripped of her new shirt by the Mission Oblates, making Phyllis’ story – and her shirt – symbolic of the stripping away of respect and culture, and the tragic story of residential schools.
Removed from their homes, denied access to their culture and language, these children suffered from abuse, neglect, and too often, death. As a parent and grandparent, I cannot fathom this atrocity, knowing I might never see my children again. The anguish, pain and yes, hatred must have been overwhelming for Indigenous parents and children. Today, we still have a crisis with the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples in institutions and on welfare, and their diminished access to resources.
When I took the Personal Pledge of Reconciliation, I made a commitment to learn about the history, the culture, and the challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Indigenous issues are everyone’s issues. We all have a responsibility to learn, listen and ensure justice for Indigenous Peoples across Canada.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to advance reconciliation through a deeper understanding of the impact residential schools had on Indigenous Peoples, and on the history of our nation. Let’s show our support through learning, understanding, and by wearing an orange shirt on September 30th.
Public commemoration of the painful history, and ongoing impacts of residential schools, is a vital component of the reconciliation process. I encourage all Canadians to show their support and respect in honouring the Indigenous children who were taken from their families and sent to these schools.
Let us commit to learning more about the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and act on delivering them. Let us reach out to Indigenous communities, and let them know we want to go forward with truth, trust, and love in forging a better future.
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support to former residential school students and those affected. Emotional and crisis referral services can be accessed 24/7 by calling 1-866-925-4419.