National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Arrives

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Indigenous, Residential Schools, Canada, Graves, Unmarked Graves, Catholic

The CN Tower was lit up in orange on Canada Day to honour the 215 Indigenous children whose remains were found on the grounds of a Kamloops residential school and in support of all victims and survivors of residential schools and their families. (Photo courtesy of CN Tower)

For decades, beginning in the 1800s, thousands of Indigenous peoples were taken from their homes and families by the Canadian government and placed into residential schools.

The goal of the residential school system was assimilation. It was an attempt to rid students of their Indigenous “disease” and instill European culture, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

“This is a moment where Canadians, proud Canadians who maybe never took time to know the truth, this is our moment to make sure we get it right,” Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme 

The price paid by the children who attended these schools and their families was appalling. The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed the discovery of roughly 200 potential burial sites, likely of children, on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.  Weeks later the Cowessess First Nation discovered 751 unmarked graves.

September 30 marks Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The creation of this federal statutory holiday was done through legislative amendments in Parliament. On June 3, 2021, Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation) received Royal Assent.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Indigenous, Residential Schools, Canada, Graves, Unmarked Graves, Catholic

Niagara Falls turned Orange for 15 minutes in honour of the 150,000 residential school survivors last year. (Photo courtesy of HCDSB-Indigenous)

Throughout the country, Canadians are recognizing the lost children and survivors by wearing orange to show solidarity with the Indigenous groups.

“I recognize these findings only deepen the pain that families, survivors, and all Indigenous peoples and communities are already feeling, and that they reaffirm a truth that they have long known,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a media statement after the discovery of children’s bodies in Kamloops.

Why orange? According to a report in CBC, the Orange Shirt Society encourages people to wear the colour on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to both honour and raise awareness about the tragic history of residential schools. The day is inspired by the experience of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation elder in Williams Lake, B.C., whose orange shirt, given to her by her grandmother, was taken away from her on her first day at a residential school, when she was six.

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