Canada must be better at teaching country's 'full story,' Governor General says

People hold up a sign commemorating victims of the residential school system, during an event at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 30, 2023. (Patrick Foucault/CBC - image credit)
People hold up a sign commemorating victims of the residential school system, during an event at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 30, 2023. (Patrick Foucault/CBC - image credit)

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon said Saturday that Canada's education system should place greater emphasis on Indigenous history and languages, as she spoke at a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event on Parliament Hill.

"We need a more unified system of how we give the full story of Canada, especially in relation to Indigenous and first peoples of this country," Simon said.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a federal statutory holiday, recognizes the legacy of Canada's residential school system and its harms to Indigenous Peoples. It was introduced in response to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action.

Simon said that during her travels as Governor General, she is often asked about her perspective on reconciliation. She noted it is important that rhetoric was accompanied by concrete action.

"I'm seeing every day how complex it is, what is confronting us as a country," she said. Closing the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in terms of infrastructure, health care and education would require hard work, she added.

"It takes a long time, these things. And I understand and fully sympathize with those that are at home in small communities [who] are continuing to suffer the inequities," she said.

"I think it's important to remember that even though we're making progress on bigger issues, it's not necessarily having an impact at the community level."

People are gathering in communities across the country to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The prime minister is in La Ronge, Sask., participating in events, beginning with a march.

Trudeau said today is "a day where all Canadians need to confront the fact that our past was not what we would want it to be."

"There are many who would like us to simply brush over the past and pretend it didn't happen because they feel that talking about truth and reconciliation, marking this day, somehow diminishes us as a country," he said during a speech.

Responding to a question from CBC News on Parliament Hill Saturday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the event was "a very special day for all Canadians to reflect on the wrongs of the past, to promote reconciliation and to honour the first peoples from coast to coast to coast."

Speakers at the Parliament Hill event highlighted residential school survivors and Indigenous elders, who discussed their experiences as well as their hopes for the future.

"The challenge now is what do we do to have good relations? What do we do to restore respectful relationships? How do we advance true reconciliation?" said Chief Willie Littlechild, a residential school survivor and former commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"The residential school system was intended to destroy First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures, and our languages, but they did not succeed," said Stephanie Scott, head of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. She called for the government to greenlight additional disclosures of documents related to the residential school system.

In a statement, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the day was an opportunity for Canadians to learn and reflect on the past.

"Only by confronting this history can we commit to a future where all children can prosper," he said.

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told CBC News he had been struck by the ceremony and the experiences of residential school survivors.

"Also, this is an important to day to remember those who passed away," he said.

"We're still trying to change this country so that we don't have systemic racism, that we don't education system and health-care systems and child welfare systems that systematically erase our culture and take our children away from our communities — and perpetuate the same things that the residential school system tried to do."

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour service at 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat.