In Canada, September 30th is now known as a national day dedicated to commemorating the immemorial legacy of Indian Residential Schools. Among other things, this day honour’s survivors, children who never made it home, and all those impacted by Indian Residential Schools. Understanding Canada’s true and painful history of Indigenous Peoples is essential in the path towards reconciliation.
The first residential school opened at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario, in 1831, even before Canada became a nation. The federal government and churches forced thousands of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children from their homes into government-run and church-run schools. These children suffered severe trauma and have been physically, emotionally, and sexually abused, which has impacted families, communities, and generation after generation. The last residential school closed only twenty-six years ago.
As an Anishinabe Kwe whose grandmother attended the Mohawk Institute, I feel it is important to amplify Indigenous stories and speak the truth of Canada’s history that has impacted my family, ancestors, community, and nation for generations. I hope by speaking my truth, my words will inspire you to reflect on the true history of this country, and your own commitment to reconciliation and support for Indigenous communities.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was a result of a lawful settlement agreement between Indian Residential School Survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Leaders and the Government of Canada. Between 2008 and 2014, the TRC held hearings with more than 6,500 survivors who shared their stories of the harms done in residential schools.
On June 2nd, 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report, called Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future. Its 94 Calls to Action are directed to all levels of government, the justice system, educational institutions, social services, police services, museums and Canadians. It is imperative the TRC to call on all Canadians to acknowledge this truth in history in order to start the journey of reconciling with Indigenous peoples.
The commitment to reconciliation needs to start within an individual. Learning may be daunting and even bring feelings of shame or guilt about learning of the atrocities Indigenous Peoples across the country had and continue to endure. Although this may be uncomfortable, it is pivotal in truly becoming an ally to Indigenous family members, friends, colleagues, and communities.
In terms of contributing to reconciliatory efforts more broadly, Canadians need to reflect on their own ideologies, learnings and assumptions. Reconciliation is collective, which means government, businesses, organizations, law enforcement, the justice system, educational institutions and all Canadians must come together to put effort towards reconciling with the original Peoples of these lands.
Here are some examples of possible reconciliatory efforts in different sectors:
- Holding space for Indigenous Peoples to share their perspectives and knowledge while actively listening.
- Hiring more Indigenous Peoples in leadership roles or providing the opportunity to grow to achieve leadership level.
- Not tokenizing Indigenous employees for their lived experience.
- Decolonizing your organization’s practices, protocols, and policies.
- Reading the TRC’s Calls to Action and identifying short, medium, and long term commitments in your organization.
- Endorsing policies and laws with the best interest for Indigenous Peoples with Indigenous leaders being involved in early stages of development
- Learning opportunities for staff and/or the general public.
September 30th Reflection
One way to show allyship on September 30th is to attend events to honour survivors hosted by your local First Nation, community organizations or led by Indigenous people in your area. One such event on September 30th is Orange Shirt Day. Phyllis (Jack) Webstad started Orange Shirt Day to commemorate the survivors and families affected by residential schools. The orange shirt symbolizes her own story as a survivor. Phyllis was taken from her home on September 30, 1973 and forced into a residential school. She was wearing an orange shirt when she was taken, and her orange shirt was stripped from her when she was brought to the school. Communities nationwide host Orange Shirt Day events and people wear their orange shirts. Although these events across the country are happening, Individuals may find it to be cumbersome to attend in person.
Here are five more ways to be an ally on September 30th:
September 30th is a time for reflection, whether collective or individual.
Although September 30th is only one day out of the year, it’s important for guests on this land to learn about the true history of these lands in which they work and live on. We are all treaty people.
Miigwetch for reading.