Since endorsing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s Calls to Action, OPSEU has taken consistent action toward reconciliation. We recognize September 30th as Orange Shirt Day to commemorate the survivors of the residential school system.
In 1973 six-year old Phyllis Webstad was gifted a brand new orange shirt from her grandmother and wore it to the residential (mission) school she attended in British Columbia. Upon her arrival, school officials removed and discarded the shirt from her and replaced it with a school uniform. This greatly impacted the mental and emotional well-being of Webstad and symbolized that “her feelings never mattered.” September 30th was chosen as the date to commemorate all the children that attended residential schools as it was the time of year that children left their homes and communities to attend the schools. This annual campaign began in 2013 after Webstad shared this experience at a reunion with other survivors.
The response of all levels of government to the TRC Calls to Action has been dismal. Despite apologies and rhetoric about reconciliation, the Canadian government continues to prioritize pipelines and resource extraction over Indigenous sovereignty. Doug Ford and the Provincial government reversed a commitment to make Indigenous courses a mandatory part of the curriculum. Governments at all levels have failed to act on the Final Report of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is disappointed in government response to the TRC Calls to Action. “Canada has responded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with daily acts of colonization rather than daily acts of reconciliation,” says Thomas.
Canada’s legacy is a part of our collective history. Yet all is not hopeless. Thomas and the OPSEU Indigenous Circle reiterate the call issued upon release of the TRC Final Report: “We don’t have to wait for governments to start; reconciliation can and should start with all of us.” Indigenous Circle Chair Krista Maracle challenges members to take up the call to reconciliation where governments have failed, beginning with recognition of Orange Shirt day: “Despite government inaction, we can still do something. The Orange Shirt Day campaign provides all Canadians with an opportunity to participate in a collective act of reconciliation.”