On Friday, Canada marks the second official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — a federal public holiday designed to give public employees a chance to honor the hostels’ heritage.
“We have to remember that this is called Orange Shirt Day,” said Crystal Gail Fraser, assistant professor of history and native studies at the University of Alberta.
“This day is an indigenous-led grassroots day of remembrance, reconciliation, ceremony, healing. And it grew out of the story of Indian Residential School survivor Phyllis Webstad and how she was institutionalized in the early 1970s and her orange shirt—a gift from her mother—was taken away.”
September is a new national holiday. What does it mean to you?
September is a new national holiday. What does it mean to you?
September 30 was designated a paid holiday for federal employees in June 2021, addressing one of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“We call on the federal government, in partnership with First Nations people, to institute a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation as a public holiday to honor survivors, their families and communities and to ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains on integral part of the reconciliation process,” the TRC report says.
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Fraser said she was glad the federal government had implemented the TRC’s call to action by creating the national day, saying it was just a starting point.
She referred to the document Calls to Action: Accountability, a 2021 Status Update on Reconciliation by Eva Jewell and Ian Mosby.
“In this particular report, they say about 14 percent of the 94 calls to action were implemented,” Fraser said.
“But what they are really encouraging us to do is think more broadly about truth and reconciliation.
“While the calls to action are important, although they must be implemented, neither can we look at truth and reconciliation as a checklist for, as we know, the best relationships we have in our lives are the ones that require work, who need constant care, those who are with friends and relatives and neighbors.”
Alberta is leaving the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to employers
While the Alberta government on September 30 “encourages all Albertans to reflect on the legacy of residential schools,” it is leaving the establishment of a public holiday to individual employers for provincially regulated industries.
“We cannot limit our recognition of the legacy of boarding schools to just one day,” Adrienne South, spokeswoman for Alberta’s Department of Indigenous Relations, said at the August 2021 memorial at the Alberta Legislature site to victims of the boarding school system.
A call for expressions of interest went out in June and a panel of Indigenous elders and community members made the final selection, the ministry said on Wednesday.
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Fraser said the TRC’s calls to action are broadly aimed at governments, churches, large organizations and corporations.
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However, there are many ways Canadian settlers can participate in and recognize the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
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In fact, Fraser and her colleague Sara Komarnisky wrote in 2017 to mark Canada’s 150th birthday 150 acts of reconciliation, a list of small, everyday acts – and some thought-provoking concepts – the average Canadian can undertake. Suggestions include learning about land recognition in your area, learning the difference between Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nation, Métis and Inuit people, attending an Indigenous cultural event such as a round dance, or supporting local Indigenous authors, restaurants and businesses.
“If we think of Orange Shirt Day in particular, one of Act #8 is: Find out if there was a boarding school in the area where you live,” Fraser shared.
“There’s also Law #27, which is about buying some books for your kids that explain the history and legacy of boarding schools.
“Act #32: Listen More, Talk Less. So listen and grow as a person.
“When this list was released in 2017, we had someone on Twitter take up Act #40, which is to write to your local council, MLA or MP about raising an Indigenous flag on government buildings. They had an Indigenous flag at City Hall where they lived within a week,” Fraser said.
“The last one, the 150th, is really to start your own list… come with #151. Again, this isn’t meant to be a checklist, just a starting point.”
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Fraser also suggested making a donation to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation, learning more about the indigenous communities you live in, and taking the University of Alberta indigenous Canada’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for free.
“After I got my PhD and worked at U of A, I took this course and I really learned a lot. I’m one of their instructors now, but really, we see a lot of different people from different backgrounds and cultures signing up for this MOOC and it’s just a beautiful thing that you can do it for free.”
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Fraser also encourages some self-reflection and a broader perspective on September 30th.
“People who celebrate September 30 ask yourself to reflect on how we came to have this holiday, a national holiday to commemorate and celebrate reconciliation in Canada.
“I think this was proposed 30 years ago in the 1990s and it took until there was talk of unmarked graves in 2021, that’s how long it took to implement this national holiday.
“On the other hand we have the death of the Queen and it was in record time that we had a bank holiday for it. So just think a little critically about how these processes work, what Canadian values we hold to get things done.”
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Overall, she hopes it will be a day of learning and listening.
“One of the things we really need to remember is that in this settler state of Canada, there are thousands of indigenous peoples and communities who continue to be denied basic human rights such as decent housing such as clean drinking water.
“We still have tragedies happening as a result of structural racism.”
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