September 30, 2021 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day which coincides with the Indigenous-led grassroots movement Orange Shirt Day.

This day honours the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process. There were 140 federally run Indian Residential Schools which operated in Canada between 1831 and 1998, and the last school closed only 23 years ago. Survivors advocated for recognition and reparations and demanded accountability for the lasting legacy of harms caused.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission ran from 2008 to 2015 and provided those directly or indirectly affected by the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools policy with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences. This year, following the devastating discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in Canada (with the understanding that there are undoubtedly many more lost children to bring home and families to heal), we must confront unspeakable truths about our past and present, and unlearn the settler history so many of us were taught. In 2021, here are some ways forward:

1) Listen to a brand-new The Conference Board podcast feat. Hon. Murray Sinclair, Former Chair, Truth & Reconciliation Commission: http://ow.ly/aGIz50Ffnhx

2) Go to the Orange Shirt Day website to learn more about the history and significance: Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in May 2013. The project was the vision of Esketemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, a former student himself, and the events were designed to commemorate the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. Former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad told her story of her first day at residential school when her shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken from her as a six-year old girl. The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.

3) Consider taking Indigenous Canada, a FREE 12-hr course from the University of Alberta that explores Indigenous peoples and emerging issues from a historical perspective (fur trade and other exchange relationships, land claims, legal systems and rights, political conflicts, contemporary Indigenous life and art, and more.

4) Support Indigenous artists, artisans, retailers, suppliers, and businesses. Learn about the economic development potential of First Nations Urban Development Areas (FNUDAs) like the former Kapyong Barracks site: https://treaty1.ca/kapyong/

5) Talk with your family about what it might be like to live with undrinkable water like many of Manitoba’s Indigenous communities: https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1614385724108/1614385746844

6) Learn about residential schools, the 60s Scoop, and the current state of Indigenous children in care:

  • Start on the Government of Canada site: Begin Your Learning Journey.
  • Visit the CMHR website to read the story, Childhood Denied.
  • To honour Orange Shirt Day, The Manitoba Museum will provide complimentary admission to the Museum Galleries from Thursday, September 30 to Sunday October 3. To ensure physical distancing, admission will be by limited, time-specific tickets with staggered entry times. The event will include special, all-day programming in the Museum Galleries focused on the history of Indian Residential Schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action. Get your free tickets in advance.

7) Access the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation online, for a vast repository of archives and resources including 94 Calls to Action. Call to action 92 is for corporate Canada: “We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources.” Read the report here.

8) Read about UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007 by a majority (144 states for, and four votes against, including originally opposed by Canada): Today the Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of indigenous peoples. It establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world and it elaborates on existing human rights standards and fundamental freedoms as they apply to the specific situation of indigenous peoples. To read about UNDRIP, click here.

9) If you’re an educator: This year, thanks to an investment from RBC, Every Child Matters is growing from a single day to a full week of online and broadcast educational programming for students in Grades 5 to 12 all across Canada. You can access teacher resources on the Orange Shirt Day website here, or register here for an online event. You can also learn about mukluk traditions through The Storyboots School, an initiative of Manitobah Mukluks.

10) Remember to use the day to reflect, to learn, and to listen with empathy and an open heart. ♥️