National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a time to 'read, acknowledge, understand,' says advocate

·4 min read
Stephanie Scott is executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. (University of Manitoba - image credit)
Stephanie Scott is executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. (University of Manitoba - image credit)
University of Manitoba
University of Manitoba

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

Thursday marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, a new federal statutory holiday to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools as well as their families and communities.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has launched a five-day virtual event with programming available for the general public. The centre has hundreds of educational resources available for anyone who wants to learn more about reconciliation, said executive director Stephanie Scott.

"A really important first step is to read, acknowledge, understand," she said in an interview with The St. John's Morning Show this week.

The first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation comes just months after the discovery of the remains of 215 children buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. The find prompted national mourning and ignited conversations about the legacy of residential schools.

Scott said the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an opportunity for those conversations to continue.

"It's a moment to reflect on the harms inflicted by colonialism and residential schools that were for a very long time out of sight and out of mind," Scott said. "This day is set aside to honour all the children who survived residential schools, as well as those that did not return."

Newfoundland and Labrador has its own history of residential schools and cultural assimilation, including six residential schools in Labrador and St. Anthony. Indigenous groups across the province will be holding events and programming to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Scott said Canada still has a long way to go on the path to reconciliation but she believes the process is beginning to move forward as more people recognize and acknowledge the impact of residential schools.

Scott said Truth and Reconciliation Week will include programming from First Nations, Metis and Inuit knowledge keepers, authors, filmmakers, Indigenous artists, elders and leaders. All the programming is free and is available online.

A one-hour special will be broadcast on CBC TV, CBC Radio One and CBC Gem on Thursday at 9:30 NT.

Private sector can remain open this year

Most provinces have not made Sept. 30 a holiday for the private sector this year, although some governments have said they may in future years.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Sept. 30 has been designated a government holiday, meaning schools and government offices will be closed, but private sector workplaces can remain open. By Wednesday, however, a number of private businesses in the province had announced they would close Thursday to mark the day.

Louis-Philippe Gauthier, a representative for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business in Atlantic Canada, raised concerns about the potential lost revenue businesses would face if the government implemented the new holiday next year.

"We're coming out of one of the worst events that businesses across the country, including in Newfoundland and Labrador, have gone through," he said.

CBC
CBC

In an interview with CBC Radio's On The Go, Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation Minisiter Lisa Dempster said the government would consult business representatives before making Sept. 30 a public holiday in 2022. She said the provincial government may need to make changes to the Shop Closing Act or the Labour Standards Act.

She said there will be no additional cost to the provincial government for the holiday.

Dempster said the provincial government is encouraging people to take the day to reflect on the legacy of residential schools and learn about the histories and cultures of Indigenous peoples.

"We are standing in support of all Indigenous individuals, families and communities that carry the grief of the burial confirmations, the neglect, the mistreatment, the torment and tears of residential schools, and their misguided and misconceived mission of assimilation," said Dempster.

Premier Andrew Furey has committed to apologizing to residential school survivors on behalf of the province — a commitment that former premier Dwight Ball made in 2017 — but a date for the apology has not yet been set.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School crisis line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour line: 1-866-925-4419.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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