The Indigenous communities of Canada have been subject to oppression since the beginning of Canada’s existence. Indigenous peoples have had their lives, land, and culture stripped from them under colonial rule. The residential school system was one of many devastating atrocities that continue to impact the lives of Indigenous communities. Truth and Reconciliation Day is the first commemorative day to properly acknowledge and remember the tragic history of the treatment of Indigenous peoples. It was only recently made a federal statutory day for the first time in 2021.
What is truth and reconciliation, and how did it start? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) defines “Truth and Reconciliation” as the process of ensuring and maintaining respectful relations between the government and indigenous peoples. It originated from the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which the federal government, church organizations, and survivors of residential schools signed. The commission launched in 2008 with a mission to educate Canadians on the impacts of the residential school system, along with the abuse undergone by its victims. The prime minister at this time, Stephen Harper, made a formal apology to the survivors. In 2010, the TRC held seven national events, each including one of seven sacred teachings: love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility, and truth.
Despite this, the government remained hesitant to share important documents on the residential school system. The first interim report issued by the TRC had deemed their hesitation as “Lack of Cooperation” in terms of the agreement. Several callouts were initiated against the government to disclose them, including from Justice Stephen Goudge, and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
The University of Manitoba hosted the National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. It was a library for all documents, statements, and materials collected by the TRC on the residential school system. With further research completed, the commission released its final report in 2015. This sparked 94 calls to action, with many being directly correlated to education. The federal government then worked together with provincial, territorial, and indigenous administrations to change the programs and policies of Canada. Finally, an honest effort to restore and advance with reconciliation had begun.
The Indigenous-led commemorative day started on September 30, 2013. “Orange Shirt Day” provided awareness of the intergenerational impacts of the residential school system. This is what commenced the “Every Child Matters” concept, as a reminder that Indigenous children had their culture, freedom, and even their lives, stripped away over generations. In 2023, September 30 was an official national statutory commemorative day for the first time.
It is required by the federal government that most businesses close for the observation of Truth and Reconciliation; and it is encouraged that everyone shows their support by wearing orange t-shirts. Additionally, you can show support by educating yourself on the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, supporting Indigenous artists, authors, and filmmakers, attending local Indigenous events that are open to the public, presenting the importance of reconciliation to a class or organization, learning about local land acknowledgments, and participating in charities that support Indigenous communities.