30 September was a momentous day in Canada.
We have a new Federal Holiday in Canada starting this year. September 30 is now recognized as:
How did this come about? Here is a very brief and abbreviated timeline:
In 2007, the largest legal class-action lawsuit in Canadian history resulted in The Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) which came into effect in September 2007.
One element of that agreement was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to bring to light the facts behind the Residential School system (1870’s to 1996).
In March 2008, a tour titled Remembering the Children traveled to various cities in Canada where Indigenous leaders and Church officials promoted activities of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
On 11 June 2008, on behalf of the Government of Canada, the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, stood in parliament in our nation’s capital and gave an official apology to the Indigenous People for the Indian Residential School System. You can read the entire apology here.
Orange Shirt Day began in a school in Williams Lake, B.C., Canada, 30 September 2013. Its aim was to raise awareness and honour the Indigenous children that were taken from their families by the Canadian government and forced to attend Residential Schools. Far from home, the Residential schools separated them from their family structure, language and culture to force assimilation into European-dominated society and culture.
The original ‘orange shirt’, for Orange Shirt Day, belonged to Phyllis Webstad, who attended the St. Joseph’s Residential School near Williams Lake. Like Phyllis, I grew up getting a new outfit for the first day of school. I felt excited and special. Phyllis’s grandmother gave her a new orange shirt for her first day of school as well. But that’s where the similarity in our story ends. Read Phyllis’s story here.
The first Orange Shirt Day in 2013 in that school in Williams Lake, started a movement that spread across the entire province of British Columbia and then Canada.
In June 2015, the TRC released a summary report of its findings and 94 Calls to Action. As of 2020, only 8 calls to action have been completed. Items 71-76 of the Calls to Action deal with cemeteries and burial grounds of children from former residential schools.
Then on 27 May this year, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation near Kamloops, BC announced they had found 215 graves of children at the former Kamloops Residential School using ground-penetrating radar.
By August, over 1300 unmarked graves had been discovered in western Canada.
Why 30 September?
The end of September was the usual time when Indigenous children were removed from their families and home communities and taken to residential schools.
A number of years ago, I attended a weekend writing conference in Nanaimo, BC hosted by the Federation of BC Writers. On the second evening there was an event at which Indigenous writers and traditional storytellers gave a presentation and answered questions.
Regarding reconciliation, someone in the audience asked the question: What can I as an individual do?
I will never forget the answer:
We ask that you listen.
As a Canadian, and a member of the privileged European community, I have decided to listen and learn. Listen to the stories and history of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
I live and work on the traditional unceded territory of the Lekwugen Peoples, which includes the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.