Canada marks National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with events across country

Students carry a ceremonial cloth with the names of children who died in residential schools and were identified in the National Student Memorial Register, during Gidinawendimin – We Are All Related, an event for youth featuring Residential School Survivors, Knowledge Keepers, and Indigenous music and culture, part of Truth and Reconciliation Week, in Ottawa, on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.

Seas of orange flooded events across the country on Saturday as Canadians gathered to acknowledge systemic oppression of Indigenous people and observe the third annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The federal statutory holiday, adapted from the grassroots Orange Shirt Day, recognizes the abuse suffered by Inuit, First Nations and Metis people at hundreds of state- and church-run residential schools.

At a ceremony in Ottawa, Chief Dylan Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg said the consequences of the residential school system can be felt to this day, including the loss of Indigenous language speakers.

“Today, First Nations communities have goals,” he said. “We seek prosperity. We want a sustainable future. And we want our Indigenous languages back. But unfortunately, we are in survival mode, and this is unacceptable.

“We ask you to help us achieve these goals. Let us all work towards economic reconciliation and reshape this great country. Not for today, but for the next seven generations.”

Residential school survivors and Indigenous leaders were among the crowd of hundreds who converged on Parliament Hill for the commemorative event, where smudge wafted through the air.

A red banner with the names of children who didn’t make it home from residential schools was carried through the crowd, prompting people to rise as a sign of respect as it made its way to the stage.

Attendees were invited to place shoes on the stage as a symbol to remember those children, and within minutes the front of the platform was covered with moccasins and other footwear.

SEE ALSO: ‘It gives great hope’: Victoria Orange Shirt Day committee prepares for weekend powwow

The federal statutory holiday was created in response to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action, after ground penetrating radar found unmarked graves near the site of a former residential school outside of Kamloops, B.C.

It’s an evolution of Orange Shirt Day, a grassroots initiative started in 2013, inspired by Phyllis Webstad’s story of having the orange shirt her grandmother gave her taken away when she arrived at residential school.

Joanna Bernard, interim national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, used the day to urge the government to implement the rest of the commission’s calls to action.

“Reconciliation is an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships. Part of this work includes taking concrete actions to advance the implementation of the TRC Calls to Action,” she said in a written statement.

The group said only 13 calls to action have been completed so far — three of them in the last year.

Events are also slated to take place in locales across the country, including powwows in Victoria, Winnipeg and Toronto.

In Montreal, orange-clad marchers gathered to walk from the base of Mount Royal to the pedestal where a statue of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, once stood before being toppled in 2020.

Macdonald was an architect of the residential school system.

As march participants gathered at the starting point, Resilience Montreal Board Director Ann Deer said she hopes the event serves as a reminder.

“I’m hoping the general public understands that today we’re here to talk about a horrible time in Canada’s history,” Deer said.

“If we don’t learn our past we’re going to repeat our past. And because of that dark history we have many people still struggling.”

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg is offering free admission today, as is the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is in Saskatchewan to observe the day, said the occasion should be about listening to survivors.

“We must never forget the past and the injustices committed against Indigenous Peoples at residential schools, as well as the intergenerational trauma that remains today,” he said in a written statement. “Right now, with denialism sadly on the rise, uncovering the whole truth is more important than ever.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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