Canada’s New National Holiday

Image by Government of Canada

Today is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This holiday was proposed in 2015 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which under Action 80 called upon the federal government, in collaboration with Indigenous peoples, to establish a statutory holiday “to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

Phyllis as a child

Today also marks Orange Shirt Day which was established in 2013 to honour Phyllis (Jack) Webstad. ” whose new orange shirt was taken away from her on her first day at residential school when she was only six years old. “I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!

“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.

Orange Shirt Day is a day for us to recognize the harm the residential school system did to children like Phyllis, to their sense of self-esteem and well being and to affirm that their lives matter. It is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day which honours the children like Phyllis who survived residential schools and remembers those who did not.  All Canadians are encouraged to wear orange to raise awareness of the country’s tragic legacy of residential schools and to honour the thousands of survivors.

Here are ways in which today will be commemorated:

Illuminating Parliament Hill

To commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and to honour the Survivors, their families and communities, buildings across Canada will be illuminated in orange September 29 and/or September 30, from 7:00 pm to sunrise the next morning. This will include federal buildings such as the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.

Truth and Reconciliation Week

This 5-day, bilingual educational event will include programming designed for students in grades 5 through 12 along with their teachers and feature Indigenous Elders, youth and Survivors. The event will be pre-recorded and webcasted, allowing for schools and classrooms participation from across the country and the involvement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Broadcast

A 1-hour bilingual primetime show in partnership with, and broadcast on, CBC/Radio-Canada and APTN will be devoted to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Programming will include presentations on the importance of this day as well as cultural and artistic performances in support of healing and giving voices to Indigenous peoples.

APTN Sunrise Ceremony

APTN will present pre-taped Sunrise ceremony featuring drummers, singers, Elders and various Indigenous traditions.

Orange shirt Day – 2021 events

List of public events held across Canada to commemorate Orange Shirt Day 2021.

140 federally run Indian Residential Schools operated in Canada between 1831 and 1998. The last school closed as recently as 23 years ago. Survivors advocated for recognition and reparations and demanded accountability for the horrors they went through. These efforts culminated in:

This day is not your typical holiday. In fact for Catherine Martin, “This day is not a holiday; rather it is a memorial, and a time of grieving, forgiveness, and transformation.” It’s a day the day marks a very special and sacred time in our history as we honor the lives of the children who attended Shubenacadie Residential School and all the others across Turtle Island – Canada.  It’s a day of soul searching. It’s a day when we reflect on “the atrocities which were done to the sacred lives of Indigenous children, some of who never returned home; to understand that this is part of Canada’s truth/ history; and begin to embark upon a journey of healing and change.”

Today is also an opportunity to “commit to the process of truth, reconciliation and justice with First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Toronto and across Canada, as well as take action to heal and build a better future together”.

Here are tips on what you can do to commemorate this day:

  1. Educate yourself and your children-Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action  and the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice ; Learn about residential schools and take a tour of former sites such as those offered by the Woodland Cultural Centre 
  2. Give-donate or support or volunteer for local Indigenous organizations or causes
  3. Participate-wear orange, read books, watch films/documentaries, support Indigenous artists and businesses

“Reconciliation is the responsibility of every Canadian. It means acknowledging the past and ensuring history never repeats itself by respecting Indigenous treaties and rights, and letting go of negative perceptions and stereotypes to work towards solidarity.”

A makeshift memorial to children taken to residential schools was placed in Sylvia Grinnell Park over the summer. (Photo by Corey Larocque)

Today is a day for the country to stand together with the survivors of residential schools and help them in their journey of healing. It is to be treated much like “Remembrance Day — a time to pause and reflect on the Indigenous lives lost at residential schools.”

Sources: Government of Canada; Dalhousie University; Toronto; Nunatsiaq News; Orange Shirt Day

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