How to commemorate Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Today is the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to honor surviving and deceased Indian boarding school children, their families and their communities, and to ensure public commemoration of the history and enduring legacy of boarding schools.

When it was introduced last year, many questioned the need to mark this as a federal holiday, with concerns about whether the day would be respected and marked with reflection and atonement, or if the day would be lightly treated as a “day off.” We’ve seen a fairly typical response, consistent with other national holidays: some went about the day without much thought, some recognized the intent of the day without making it a national holiday, and others supported the national day but forgone the commemoration, the ceremony or learning activities in favor of an extended weekend trip.

Curious, I went to a search engine to see the top searches for the day that year. I was heartened to note that nobody asked “what” the tag is in the top searches. It seems that many, if not most, know what the day is for. Not surprisingly, however, there have been a lot of related searches on how to get engaged.

Discussing search results with friends, one clarified: “Honestly, and maybe I’m just an idiot, but one of the main questions for someone like me is how to approach the day appropriately and respectfully, and in a concrete way – especially compared to the National Day of Indigenous Peoples?”

I can understand the confusion.

National Indigenous Peoples Day, observed annually on June 21, is a day when Canadians recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and contributions of Indigenous people, Inuit and Metis. It was introduced in 1996 by the proclamation declaring 21 June each year to be National Aboriginal Day and has since been renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day. It was established in response to calls from Indigenous leaders and a 1995 recommendation from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

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As reflected in the proclamation, June 21 was chosen to coincide with a day of significance to indigenous peoples – the summer solstice. On this day, the indigenous people honor the sun, which takes its place at the highest point in the sky. It is the light-filled day and one that has been celebrated for thousands of years by indigenous peoples who gather to give thanks for the boon Mother Earth has provided.

Meanwhile, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30 is a day to ensure public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and enduring legacy of boarding schools. It was introduced in June 2021 and is an official federal holiday. It is also seen as the government’s response to one of the appeals by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

September 30 was chosen to honor Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters, an Indigenous-led memorial that grew out of a 2013 reunion of boarding school survivors attending St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia had. A reunion spokeswoman, Phyllis Webstad, who was forcibly removed from her family at the age of six and sent to boarding school in 1973, shared her story of how she was told to remove her favorite orange shirt given to her by her grandmother and change into it boarding school uniform. She never saw her orange shirt again.

What many, including myself, struggle with on holidays like this is the lack of clarity about societal expectations. I can understand that it might feel that events and decisions were not necessarily under our control. This type of vacation tends to focus heavily on building knowledge and raising awareness, and leaves little instruction as to what steps can be taken to correct our course and better position ourselves for the future. To help clarify, I believe it is our responsibility as citizens of this country to accept the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report in 2015, it called on Canadians to “repair the legacy of boarding schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation,” in concrete ways. The short document, which can be found here, provided clarity on how to do this with 94 separate calls-to-action.

While these are essential to moving us in the right direction, they should not be viewed as a checklist of items that, once completed, will guarantee us a balanced state. Reconciliation requires truth-sharing, apologies, and remembrance—all to acknowledge and repair past harms. It requires, like marriage, an ongoing commitment to continue to learn from and respect one another, an ongoing commitment to renewing that relationship each year, and a willingness to make it work—not just for the good of Indigenous peoples, but also for the benefit of the country as a whole.

The question is: What power and influence do you have? And do you honor your leadership in those roles? What options are there in your range? I once described this as “do what you can within your hugging distance.” And if your span is larger than the norm, bonus for us! Take action on what is your responsibility and accountability and influence what is not. And during a demonstration of support and commitment to reconciliation on September 30thth welcomed, delivering real, tangible initiatives every other day of the year is most important.

For example, we have recently seen some exceptional progress on major projects such as: B. The landmark agreement that brought Hydro One and First Nations together across Ontario to launch an industry-leading equity partnership model for new capital transmission line projects valued at over $100 million. Or like Enbridge, which recently announced an agreement whereby 23 First Nation and Metis communities will acquire an 11.57 percent interest in seven pipelines in the Athabasca region of northern Alberta for $1.12 billion, which making this the largest energy-related Indigenous Economic Partnership transaction in North America to date.

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Maybe you’re not a corporate shark capable of striking multi-million dollar deals with indigenous communities. Or maybe you are at the very beginning of your learning journey. That’s okay. We all start somewhere. Wear an orange shirt. Buy the orange sprinkled donut at Tim Horton’s. Invite your friends and colleagues to a book club and read a best-selling novel by an indigenous author. Hire a local caterer. Watch a film produced and directed by locals. Shop for birthday gifts from indigenous artists and designers. Make a commitment to source products and services from indigenous businesses.

Check your own assumptions about your surroundings from the comfort of your living room by visiting www.whose.land to learn more about indigenous communities in your area or if a boarding school operated near where you now live. Maybe you grew up near a boarding school and didn’t know it.

Regardless of where each of us is on the road to reconciliation, the challenge remains. Let’s think together about a day dedicated to just that. Take what actions are achievable.

As Judge Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada put it in his 1997 decision in Delgamuukw:

“Let’s face it, we’re all here to stay.”

So let’s put in the work to make this work.

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