Content warning: this post makes mention of Indian Residential Schools and may be distressing to some readers. Please be advised that the Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week for anyone experiencing distress. Please do not hesitate to call if you need someone to talk to: 1-800-721-0066
September 30 marks Canada’s second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, as well as Orange Shirt Day – a time for memorial and critical reflection inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and residential school survivor and Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation citizen, Phyllis Webstad.
Over 130 residential schools were built across Canada and operated between 1831 until 1996. The Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford was the first one in Canada and today, remains the only standing structure intact. The community has asked it remain so that it can be used as evidence and to educate future generation of the harms of residential schools.
It was estimated that over 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their homes to attend these residential schools. The children and grandchildren of residential school survivors continue to experience intergenerational trauma. This occurs when trauma caused by historical oppression is passed down through generations.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, which was presented to the Government of Canada in 2015, included 94 calls to action to redress the legacy of the residential school system and advance reconciliation. These calls, and the final report from the Commission, remind us that we can never forget this truth – nor can we ever look away from the horrors of settler colonialism, and its lasting impact on Indigenous sovereignty, nationhood, and belonging today. Thousands of Indigenous families and children are still being discriminated and targeted by the over representation of Indigenous peoples in the child welfare and criminal justice system.
Education plays a major part to ensure that the history of Indigenous communities is told through their lens, in their voice. Walking alongside the OPSEU/SEFPO Indigenous Circle, we have already begun the journey and our commitment to ReconciliACTION:
- Educating members and staff on the legacy of colonialism and anti-Indigenous racism committed against Indigenous peoples by offering a three-level OPSEU/SEFPO course called “The Indigenous Journey: Walking Together”.
- Continue to push the provincial government to recognize June 21, Indigenous Peoples Day, as a statutory holiday
- A constitutional amendment was passed at the 2022 Convention in which our members chose to prioritize the work of dismantling anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism as part of the union’s ongoing work to decolonize
- The OPSEU/SEFPO Indigenous Circle hosted a hybrid event on Monday, September 26 to commemorate Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation which honoured survivors, including those who did not make it home, and all lives and communities impacted by the residential school system.
“This hybrid event offered our union an opportunity to advance truth and reconciliation,” said Krista Maracle, Chair of the Indigenous Circle at OPSEU/SEFPO.
“This is how we will remember and recognize the ongoing effects of intergenerational trauma – while honouring the precious little ones whose bodies continue to be uncovered at unmarked graves across Turtle Island. We always knew our little ones were there. Now, we will work to set their souls free.”
On September 20, 2022, OPSEU/SEFPO also raised the Survivor’s Flag at Head Office to reflect on, remember, and recognize the ongoing effects of the Residential School system and intergenerational trauma.
“By raising this flag, we must understand that this is much deeper than performative symbolism. This flag must signify the sacred promises and clear responsibilities that Canadian settlers owe to the rightful sovereign stewards of this land,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President JP Hornick.
“We know, as Phyllis Webstad and others’ stories have taught us, that the burden of reconciliation is settlers’ to bear. Neither survivors, their descendants, nor any of the hundreds of sovereign Indigenous nations preceding Canada must bear this burden alone. Unlearning settler colonialism and understanding the history and legacy of residential schools is an essential responsibility of ours as Canadians. And we must remain unequivocal in our collective commitment to the truth, and to reconciliation.”