September 30 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation across Canada; a day to reflect on the colonial and genocidal legacy of residential schools, and to commit to reconciliation.
Parliament passed legislation earlier this year to mark this day as a federal statutory holiday; one of 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report. Since 2013, September 30 has been observed as Orange Shirt Day, to raise awareness about the mistreatment of children and crimes committed in residential schools.
Under the guise of education, hundreds of thousands of First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their homes to attend residential schools. Indigenous children were forced to assimilate, and every effort was made to erase their identity. These institutions not only destroyed their cultures and their languages, but ultimately stole their lives and spirit.
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.
For more than 100 years, the Canadian government supported residential school programs that isolated Indigenous children from their families and communities. The federal government, the Catholic Church and other churches, as the administrators of the residential school system, committed genocide. Generations of children, if they survived, left these institutions and returned to their communities without the knowledge, skills or tools to cope in either world. To this day, these survivors continue to feel the effects of their institutionalization in residential schools.
Since the first unmarked graves were unearthed at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Colombia, Indigenous communities, residential school survivors and their families have been re-traumatized, dealing with the grief and pain of this horrendous truth.
While this may have been shocking to some, these “discoveries” confirmed the truth that many have known for generations. These were the very same truths that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission directly heard through more than 6,500 witnesses.
This isn’t history and we cannot brush it off as a dark past. The last residential school in Canada closed in 1996, only 25 years ago. We must call this for what it is: the gross violation of human rights and the genocide of this nation’s first peoples. As allies, as settlers and as those who share this land, we each hold a responsibility. We must learn, understand and acknowledge these truths and then commit to meaningful reconciliation.
The road ahead is not easy. Although this day responds to one of the recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Report, we must continue to be intentional and specific in our commitment.
Earlier this week, the Indigenous Circle hosted a virtual forum to commemorate the survivors and victims of residential schools and recognize the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
OPSEU/SEFPO continues to push the Ontario government to recognize this day as provincial statutory day. In this spirit, and as a first step forward, OPSEU/SEFPO staff will have this day off in order to learn, reflect and remember those who have been affected by this injustice.
OPSEU/SEFPO is resolute in its partnership with all Indigenous members, their families and communities in their pursuit for justice, truth and reconciliation. We affirm our commitment to support the outlined principles by The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. We support all 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Report and will continue to call upon all levels of government to do their part.
In the words of Justice Murray Sinclair, “The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts. When it comes to truth and reconciliation, we are forced to go the distance.”
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
Krista Maracle, Chair of OPSEU/SEFPO Indigenous Circle
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