This past June, the federal government passed legislation to make Sept. 30 a federal statutory holiday called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This announcement was a direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call to action number 80, which called for such a day to be established to “honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
Prior to this announcement, since 2013, many across this province and country have been acknowledging Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 30, a date selected because this was the time of year when children were taken from their homes and sent to residential schools across this country. The foundational story for Orange Shirt Day involves six-year-old Phyllis Webstad, who, on her first day at St. Joseph Mission Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C., had her specifically chosen orange shirt taken away from her. This became a metaphor for all that was taken from children who attended residential schools in Canada over many generations.
We must remember Phyllis Webstad’s story. This year, we must also remember the children who never returned home, children whose remains have been found, and will continue to be found, at unmarked graves at residential schools across this country.
We must remember these truths. We need to reflect and recognize the history and legacy of residential schools and their lasting impact on survivors, their families and communities. Although it is important to take time on Sept. 30 to engage in such reflections, it is more important that these reflections and actions become part of our everyday lives.
Reconciliation includes non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples walking alongside each other, creating spaces and opportunities for authentic and respectful relationships, and working toward building a new way to collectively move forward. There are many paths forward, but we must ensure that we are moving forward in the same direction by continuously seeking and learning truths with open hearts and minds. It means continuing to be guided by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of Canada, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association recognizes the important role that teachers play in truth and reconciliation. We have a personal, professional and collective responsibility to engage in Indigenous education and actively contribute to truth and reconciliation as part of our lifelong learning journey. We must ensure that this engagement is part of our everyday lives through authentic student and professional learning experiences. We must create spaces for coming together to learn in the spirit of truth and reconciliation through education. We must ensure that we create welcoming schools and communities where each and every child feels safe and cared for, and where every child matters.
I am inspired by this quote by the Honourable Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, as shared at the commission’s final event: “As Commissioners we have described for you the mountain. We have shown you the path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.”
As teachers it is our responsibility to climb that mountain and continue to put in the hard work, seek the truth and share this learning with others.
We have much work to do to honour residential school survivors, their families and communities in our classrooms and school communities as part of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. But we must ensure that this important work doesn’t start and end with this day. Wear orange on Sept. 30, but also remember that authentically acknowledging the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day is more than simply wearing an orange shirt. Let’s take the time to reflect, reaffirm and commit to contributing to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, today and every day, and strengthen the heartbeat to truth and reconciliation through our individual and collective efforts. ❚
The ATA has the following Indigenous education guides that include resources and lesson plans:
National Day for Truth & Reconciliation (teachers-ab.libguides.com)
Journée nationale de la vérité et de la réconciliation (teachers-ab.libguides.com)
ATA Stepping Stones series (teachers.ab.ca > My ATA > Professional Development > Indigenous Education and Walking Together > Resources)