What we are doing and what you can do…
September 30th has been introduced as a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation by the federal government. The day—a new federal statutory holiday— has been created to give everyone an opportunity to recognize and commemorate the harmful legacy of the residential school system which more than 150,000 Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit children were forced to attend between the 1870s and 1990s.
This day is an important step in the reconciliation process for our country and an opportunity for all Canadians to recognize and honour all the Indigenous people who suffered at residential schools, to remember the thousands of children who never returned to their families, and to acknowledge the ongoing legacy of the residential school system.
As communities and individuals prepare to recognize this new holiday, celebrate Orange Shirt Day (with which it coincides), and honour the unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children that are still being found, it is important that all Canadians use this day to reflect on our collective history of assimilation and colonization and to educate ourselves on the effects that are still felt today.
This holiday is an invitation to reflect upon the past, to re-learn our history and turn that learning into action. We hope that you use this opportunity to educate yourselves, explore some current issues faced by Indigenous communities across Canada, and consider what you can do as individuals and organizations to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples—even if these are your first steps.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
One place you can start is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) final report and calls to action. The commission was established in 2008, as an outcome of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The commission’s purpose was to document the history and lasting impacts of the Canadian Indian residential school system on Indigenous students and their families.
Between 2007 and 2015, the TRC spent six years engaging and listening to the Indigenous voices who were victims of the residential school system. The TRC’s final report created a historical record, provided education about the history and legacy of the residential school system, and introduced 94 calls to action focused on furthering reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous people.
Creating this national holiday was one of those calls to action.
Awareness of the TRC has increased over the past few years, and especially over recent months with the recovery of unmarked graves in Indigenous communities where church-run residential schools were located. (Missing Children and Burial Information are addressed in calls to action 71–76.) More and more people are calling on the federal and provincial governments, as well as the Catholic Church, to publicly apologize for these atrocities and become more engaged in “righting a wrong” and addressing all of the TRC calls to action.
The TRC and social services
As some of you may be aware, there are several TRC calls to action that are specifically addressed to our sector and our work. The recommendations directed at social services and child welfare organizations are broad and far-reaching and in line with many of the values and priorities of The Federation.
Individuals, organizations, and governments are (among other things) called to reduce the number of Indigenous children and youth within the child welfare system, to implement Jordan’s Principle and to support and enact Indigenous child welfare legislation that establishes national standards for Indigenous child apprehension and custody cases. Child welfare agencies and courts are recommended to take the residential school legacy into account in all their decision-making and governments are urged to develop culturally appropriate parenting programs across the country.
The TRC calls to action have dedicated sections on child welfare, justice, youth programs, reconciliation education, and businesses. We encourage you to read and reflect on those specific to our sector and those addressed to businesses and to use whatever privilege and power you have to support the calls to action and help advance reconciliation—whether it be as individuals, as employees who deliver services, or as organizations.
What The Federation is doing on Sept 30
The Federation will be recognizing September 30th as a statutory holiday and it will be a paid day off for Federation staff. Our staff team has been encouraged to use this day to continue our personal work on Truth and Reconciliation.
Some will be participating in events (in-person or virtually) like the Drum for the Children event hosted by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc. Some will be wearing their orange shirts and talking about what orange shirt day means with their families. Others have pledged to spend the day re-reading the Truth and Reconciliation Report and finding calls to action that resonate with them and can be incorporated into their work and/or daily lives. Some will be reflecting and watching family members who are taking part in the Spirit Walk through the live YouTube feed.
The Federation is also launching a new initiative called Reconciliation Dialogues, led by our Indigenous Advisor Riley McKenzie and Communications Coordinator Marshall Watson which will combine monthly interviews, editorials, and reflections and commentary on current events to provide for dialogue with and between members and an entry point through which to learn about Indigenous people, practices, and perspectives.
What you can do on Sept 30
Hopefully, in your community, there will be workshops, art exhibits, community forums, educational opportunities and cultural activities that you can participate in.
Individually, you can host conversations in our organizations, with your families and children. If you’re not sure how to start, here is a video from the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society called Reconciliation Begins with You and Me. And here is an article on Sharing the Message of Truth and Reconciliation with Your Kids from CBC Parents.
If you spend the day in nature, learn and acknowledge which First Nation’s unceded land you are hiking or biking or camping on. Learn how to correctly pronounce that First Nation’s name. Consider that the highways and roads you took to get to that campsite or lake are most likely built on what were Indigenous trails and reflect on what that means.
If you are spending the day indoors, consider watching an Indigenous movie!
- Indian Horse (streaming on Netflix)
- Smoke Signals (rent on Amazon, Google Play or YouTube)
- Four Sheets to the Wind (streaming on Amazon Prime)
- Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (free to watch at nfb.ca)
- Once were Warriors (rent on AppleTV or YouTube)
- Monkey Beach (streaming on Crave)
Or you can spend the day reading an Indigenous author! Some of our favourites are Monique Grey-Smith, Richard Wagamese, Richard VanCamp, Lee Maracle, Waubgeshig Rice, and Michelle Good. You could also pick a book from the list of past titles on The Federation’s Reconciliation Book Club page.
You can read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada reports, including the TRC’s Calls to Action, or order a hardcopy booklet.
Start learning about key issues that are of greatest concern for Indigenous Peoples in Canada like inadequate housing and crowded living conditions higher levels of incarceration and higher rates of suicide.
Wear your orange shirt in recognition of Orange Shirt Day, encourage others to do the same, and talk to friends and family about what Orange Shirt Day is and why it is important. If you are purchasing an orange shirt, make sure you are supporting Indigenous artists and organizations.
Learn the Secwépemc Honour Song and take up the invitation to drum and sing along at 2:15 PM (PST) on September 30th.
Watch “Namwayut: We Are All One” a CBC Video on Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, narrated by Chief Robert Joseph, a residential school survivor.
Watch an interview with Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Murray Sinclair where he describes how Canadians can work toward reconciliation by, among other things, reading the Truth and Reconciliation report and finding a call to action that interests them.
In her award-winning 2016 book Price Paid, former Xat’súll First Nation Chief Bev Sellars explained that even though settlers may not be responsible for the racist laws and policies that have disadvantaged Indigenous people for centuries, now that we are aware of them, we have a responsibility to help change the situation.
“You cannot turn a blind eye to this. If you do, you will be doing
the same thing as your ancestors.” – Bev Sellars
So on September 30th, we invite you all to take the next steps on your path toward reconciliation. There is a lot of energy focused on the work of reconciliation and anti-racism right now and a variety of calls to action available to you. There are also more Indigenous resources, books, movies, and podcasts than there have ever been.
Each of us has a responsibility to acknowledge, recognize and learn on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, but we must be mindful of what we do and how we do it to ensure that our attempts at learning and growing do not put the burden back on our Indigenous community members—those of us who are settlers here have to be willing to do the work ourselves.
But that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. Remember what Altogether better is all about. Reach out to your colleagues and friends. Share ideas and lessons. Start (or continue) some conversations. Help each other figure out what to do and how to do it. Hold each other accountable. Recognize the steps you’ve taken together and then figure out and take the next ones.
Federation Indigenous Advisor
Federation Executive Director