Thursday marks Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to remember the more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children who were stripped from their families and forced into residential schools. It also honours residential school survivors and serves as a commitment to reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples. Though some provinces, like Ontario, won't recognize the official holiday, some municipalities, businesses, and schools have chosen to observe the day. Our Calvi Leon spoke with Indigenous leaders in and beyond Southwestern Ontario about what reconciliation means to them.
"(The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation) is not really about people having a day off, not going to work . . . It should be about thinking about Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples . . . Reconciling means reconciling the past, and sometimes the past can leak into the present and the future. I think it's important to have those conversations about what reconciliation means . . . And it's not just residential schools. Its loss of lands, resources, language, culture, (and) some of that stems from residential schools."[/caption]
Abram is from Oneida Nation of the Thames First Nation, southwest of London. The London-based AIAI represents 20,000 Indigenous people from seven member communities, including several in Southwestern Ontario.
"(This day) is about more than wearing orange shirts. Even talking to your local MP or MPP to change policies is really critical. When I think of education, for example, there is an issue with the curriculum about how settlers first came to this country and what actually happened. First Nations people were already here before the settlers came. We had our own culture, language, own education systems, and own health systems. Let's talk the truth about what happened in Canada's history."
Johnston, of Serpent River First Nation, between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, is the Indigenous Trustee of the Algoma District school board. She attended an Indian Day School, and her parents went to the Indian Residential School in the town of Spanish.
"Truth is learning and understanding the past government laws and policies that have taken away our identities and assimilated us into mainstream society, against our own wishes. Reconciliation is finding ways to learn and understand that truth and work together, First Nations and the rest of Canada, to make us all-inclusive while respecting our own unique societies. There's a lot of healing that has to be done and a lot of healing that's occurred . . . I'm impressed with the interest that's out there. That walk in London a couple of months ago was a prime example of that."
Munsee-Delaware Nation, northwest of London, has more than 600 members
"It's the first year this day is being nationally recognized, so that is appreciated. But I think the biggest takeaway that I hope comes from this is that it's the beginning of a process of reconciliation . . . I'm really hopeful that this next generation of youth, (who) are very proactive, smart and educated, are choosing to learn on their own. I think it's going to be a step in the right direction . . . they're much more open to diversity and open to change, and I really hope that transfers into governments in the future."
Oneida Nation of the Thames, 30 minutes southwest of London, has a population of more than 6,000
Sept. 30 is also known as Orange Shirt Day, a day launched in 2013 to remember the grim legacy of the government- and a church-run residential school system that operated from the 1830s to 1996. The 139 confirmed residential schools were designed to assimilate children into Canadian culture, often through abuse, torture and starvation.
Southwestern Ontario was home to two residential schools: the Mohawk Institute near Brantford and the Mount Elgin school on what is now the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, southwest of London.
Orange and the slogan "Every child matters" is associated with the event after Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, of Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation in B.C., told the story of how her orange shirt, a gift from her grandmother, was seized on her first day at residential school at age six in 1973.
Canadians are encouraged to reflect and learn more about Indigenous history and culture and the residential school system.
Crisis support for survivors and others affected by residential schools is available through a 24/7 hotline at 1-866-925-4419.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press