***Trigger warning: discussions of colonization and violence, residential schools, trauma, generational trauma. Please only continue reading if you feel comfortable reading about these topics. If you are feeling triggered, you can skip to the Resources section at the end of the page for support services.***
Today is the National Day for Truth & Reconciliation in Canada. What does this really mean and why is it so important to recognize this day?
For those who are not aware of the history, Indigenous peoples have been subjected to the violence of colonizers and the impact of colonization for hundreds of years. The residential school system in Canada in particular was a gruesome outcome of this violence. Children were stolen from their families to be put in “school” to learn white Christian values. Many of these children never returned, which has been confirmed by discoveries of unmarked graves at residential school sites. These discoveries further intensify the level of pain that accompanies the legacy of residential schools. For those who did manage to survive being in residential schools, they carry that trauma with them. This trauma has been passed on through generations, so even for Indigenous youth today who may not have experienced residential schools first hand, they still feel the impacts of these experiences through generational trauma.
Of course, that brief summary is a massive over-simplification of the pain that Indigenous peoples have experienced, primarily at the hands of the Canadian government. I encourage you to do further research about the history of Indigenous peoples in so-called Canada. Importantly, Indigenous peoples are still here, and learning about how they are living, surviving, and thriving today is equally important. One of the reasons the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was created was to recognize this history, and further, to outline ways to move forward in the process of reconciliation.
What is reconciliation? It’s a way to recognize what has been done, find a way to make things better, and move forward together in a positive way. We have made some progress over the past few years in terms of reconciliation. I would argue that creating this day is one step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. This is a big challenge currently facing Canada and Indigenous-Canadian relations. It is imperative to continue to focus on reconciliation efforts, and prioritize the wellbeing of Indigenous folks.
It’s easy for these types of gestures, such as creating events or designated days for specific marginalized communities, to be seen as empty or hollow. I agree that having a designated day doesn’t particularly fix anything, as it is the action we take that will have a much greater impact. However, that first step is important. An excellent next step would be mandating this day as a National Statutory Holiday. This is one of the calls to action outlined in the TRC report (call 80)! Equally important is having all Canadians take part in events to further their own knowledge and reconciliation efforts. Further steps to take are clearly outlined in multiple reports and calls to action. It is up to non-Indigenous folks to take those steps forward and continue the path of reconciliation.
What Can You Do?
So what can you do today to commit to reconciliation – especially if you are a non-Indigenous person like myself?
- Read more about the history and legacy of residential schools. A good starting point is the National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation website.
- Read the TRC paper and national Calls to Action here, and identify what areas you personally could contribute to (through areas such as work, school, and/or volunteering).
- Donate to the Indian Residential School Survival Society and other Indigenous organizations in your community that may need your support – some of which are listed below.
- Support Indigenous businesses and creators by shopping there, sharing their work, and more. One great website to start with is Shop First Nations, that has a list of a wide range of providers! I also strongly encourage you to follow creators and businesses on social media as well, and share their work with your community.
- Continue to put pressure on the government to take more concrete action in regards to Indigenous rights in Canada. Continue to prioritize the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- Check your bias about what you believe about Indigenous people, and challenge yourself to think differently. Continue to educate yourself through resources such as various Truth and Reconciliation events.
If you are an Indigenous person, take today off. There is no additional work that you need to do, as the work should fall on non-Indigenous folks to do the heavy lifting in the process of reconciliation. If you are in need of support today, contact the 24/7 IRSSS Crisis Line at 1-800-721-0066. Further resources are listed below.
Indian Residential School Survivors Society – donate
Reconciliation Canada – donate
Orange Shirt Day – donate
24/7 IRSSS Crisis Line: 1-800-721-0066
24 hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
Tsow-Tun Le Lum Crisis Line: 1-888-403-3123
Ku-Us Crisis Line: 1-800-588-8717
Please share further resources below!