Oct 13, 2022
Since 2021, September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day of mourning for Indigenous folks. It is a day to commemorate all the survivors that attended residential schools and the Indigenous children that never returned home. In May 2021, at Kamloops Residential School the bodies of 215 Indigenous children were recovered and the number of bodies continues to grow to thousands. Last September 30 was considered a statutory holiday but Indigenous folks have been asking for it to be a statutory holiday for years. It is #80 of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (94 TRC). It is confusing for Indigenous folks to hear The Queen’s passing was immediately given a National Day of Mourning on September 19. This summer, the Pope apologized for the role the church had in residential schools, which is #58 of the 94 TRC. There were a lot of mixed emotions with the Pope’s apology and receiving a headdress, as it can be triggering to watch a sacred item being gifted. It is important to acknowledge that Indigenous peoples have always practiced gift-giving and it may allow some survivors to move forward on their healing journey, but many survivors need a lot more than just an apology.
According to the OrangeT-ShirtDay.org website, the movement originated in 2013 to recognize the harm caused by residential schools, by a survivor named Phyllis (Jack) in the Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band). At 6, Phyllis’s grandma bought her an orange shirt for school as Phyllis attended the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C. The end of September is the day they would come to collect all the Indigenous children to go to these schools. Once Phyllis got to the Mission, they took away her clothes but Phyllis never got her clothes back, and she was made to feel like they didn't matter. The story of Phyllis is only one out of the thousands of Indigenous children they took across Turtle Island, and many never returned home.
The goal of the residential school system was to get rid of the Indian problem by taking Indigenous children away from their communities as a way to assimilate them into European culture. The children that attended these schools were forced to work, cut their hair, and, punished if they didn’t speak the colonizer's language. The schools were severely underfunded and many children suffered from malnutrition and were abused physically, mentally, and sexually. The children that returned home had lost their culture and language having been isolated from their families and communities. The last residential school may have closed in 1998 but the high numbers of Indigenous children in foster care continues to grow.
I wear my orange shirt for all of my grandparents who attended Spanish residential school because my entire family still experiences intergenerational trauma like addictions, homelessness, and imprisonment. There should be more than one day to reflect on reconciliation and decolonization. I encourage allies and settlers to support Indigenous-owned businesses and organizations like Assembly of 7 Generations (A7G) and visit their new storefront Adaawewigamig, located in the Byward market. Look for Indigenous-led events in your area and listen to the stories from survivors of residential schools and ’60s scoop. There are so many ways that we can show up for the next generation of Indigenous children and remind them that they matter.
By a member of the Assembly of Seven Generations (A7G)