September 30th is the first national day for “Truth & Reconciliation” across Canada. Moving forward, this new statutory holiday will be one where we honour survivors of residential schools and commemorate the lost children, their families and communities.
By | Mileva Rodriguez Ruiz
Following the recent findings of unmarked graves in past residential school establishments throughout Canada, and the increase of awareness on issues the Indigenous community faces, the Canadian government called for a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
From now on, September 30th will be a day to honour survivors of the horrors of residential schools, their families, communities, and commemorate the lost children.
This day overlaps with Indigenous-led commemorative day “Orange Shirt Day,” inspired by the story of six-year-old Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc from Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. On her first day at a residential school, she arrived dressed in a newly-gifted orange shirt, which was immediately taken from her. In her name, the orange shirt is being used as a symbol of the freedom, culture, and self-esteem that was stripped away from Indigenous children over generations.
Donna Dubie, executive director of The Healing of the Seven Generations (an organization created to help those suffering from the residential schools’ impact), shares what people can do during this statutory holiday.
“It’s an opportunity to embrace diversity and promote equality… to have a conversation.”
She expresses it is vital for people to preserve the meaning and understand the necessity of the day. Dubie invites people to pray for the children lost, not only on this day, but every day.
And most importantly, this day should serve as a reminder of the importance of educating ourselves on the residential school tragedies, and any subsequent and ongoing issues.
We now find ourselves aware that residential schools carry a much larger death toll than records showed. Thousands of unmarked graves were found, and the Indigenous community pleads (demands) for the government to take action and find just how many children were lost.
Now that the truth is out there — one which Indigenous voices have spoken for years—we can not yell for reconciliation and expect it to appear on October 1st. It is vital we recognize that while the systematic murders of Indigenous children stopped, some of the prejudice and negative stereotypes have not, all of which largely contribute to issues impacting the Indigenous community today.
Indigenous women’s groups report over 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, only 1,200 of which are recognized by the RCMP (from 1980-2012.) The community concludes the lack of official reports relates to improper coverage and an ineffective police database.
There are reports of inadequate health care provision, discrimination in the justice system, tensions with the Catholic Church, and many more issues that continue to directly affect Indigenous communities.
Regardless of the government’s efforts surrounding this holiday and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (read: “Backgrounder: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act”) at a time like this, individual action is the most important.
I invite you to re-examine the education, health care, and justice systems, and stand against any prejudice. Educate yourself on the issues previously mentioned, and support Indigenous people in the fight for justice. Support Indigenous-owned businesses and their culture accordingly. Consider if any media we may consume in our daily lives have hidden discrimination against Indigenous people.
Let this newly created statutory holiday be a call for individual reconciliation with the Indigenous community through recognition and action.