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  • Writer's pictureGilbert Whiteduck

National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

Did you know that Sept. 30 marks the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation? If you understand this important day and what it stands for, I raise my hands and thank you. If this is new to you, now is the time to learn.

The day honours the children who never returned home and the Survivors from some 130 residential schools established across Canada — children torn from their families by the colonial masters who wanted to “kill the Indian in the child,” as it has been called. The last school closed in 1996. These schools were established by the government and run by churches to separate Aboriginal children from their families to weaken family ties and cultural connections and to indoctrinate children into a new culture, that of the colonizer as the dominant society, an attempted genocide to eradicate the First Peoples of this land.

The day is also a time to reflect on the legacy of residential schools and its lasting traumatic impact on those children who attended: the families, the communities and the nations. We must also, very importantly, take a moment to offer our prayers and reflect on those who never returned home, having died and buried away from their homes without parents, families or the community ever being informed. There is much truth yet to come to light as gravesites continue to be located.

Public commemorations, times of reflection of this dark and tragic part of Canadian history and their ongoing impacts, are crucial so that what occurred can never be forgotten, never happens again and is taught in all schools of Canada with new arrivals to this country being provided with a truthful recounting of what occurred and why. The pain continues to be felt today as the trauma is deep.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented its findings in 2015. It provided an in-depth look at the realities of residential schools as shared by the Survivors and documents made available by governments and churches. Not all records were made public, but the report is thorough. Its conclusion brought forward 10 Principles and 94 Calls for Action.

There remains a long road for the Calls to Action to truly be implemented in a manner founded on truth, honesty and a move to reparations at all levels of Canadian Society. Like my other aspects of Aboriginal issues, there must be so much more than words; there must be significant changes to education, justice, health and other areas to respond to the calls, which are part of many other calls, for the building of a new relationship between Aboriginal Peoples and Canadian society.

Therefore, I call on everyone to wear or display something orange outside their homes or places of business to honour the thousands who never made it back home and the Survivors who carry much courage. Take time on Sept. 30 to discuss with your family and friends to learn more and to collectively work on taking and supporting actions as laid out in the Calls to Action.

Sept. 30 also corresponds with Orange Shirt Day. This is about the story of Phyllis Webstad from Dog Creek First Nation. She was forced to go to a residential school as a young child. Before she left, she was given an orange T-shirt by her family. When she arrived at the residential school, it was taken from her, and she never saw it again.

Take time to learn about the impacts of residential schools and take action, small or large, to help in a collective healing process. Like all other times, this is a critical time to stand with Aboriginal Peoples, allowing us to have our place in a country that tried to tear and destroy all that we were. Together, we can bring about the necessary change.

I honour all who stand with us and ensure that our voices are heard and understood. Sept. 30 is the time to show your colour, which is orange.

Note: Some references originate from the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report.

Gilbert W. Whiteduck is an Algonquin Anishinabe from the Kitigan Zibi First Nation community. He has held many positions in the community over the past five decades. These have included director of education, councillor and chief, among others. He was recently elected as president of the Gatineau Valley Historical Society. He remains true to his ancestral values and beliefs, as he remains connected to the lands and water.


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