National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: Reflections
Today marks the second year that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is recognized as a statutory holiday. As non-Indigenous people reflect on this day, it is important to consider the ongoing impact of the residential school system on Indigenous communities, and our role in honouring the lost children and survivors of residential schools.
In May 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced the discovery of 200 possible unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School. A month later, 751 unmarked graves were found at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.
The news shocked many Canadians, who had not been aware of the residential school system and only recently discovered the depth of the Catholic Church and government's role in eradicating Indigenous identity and languages. Yet, these terrible realities have been out there for some time.
They were brought to light in 1996 when children’s remains were found on the eroded grounds of the former St. Joseph Industrial School near Calgary, highlighted in this 2014 short film, Little Moccasins.
They were even present in the final report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which dedicated a volume of its report to “Missing Children and Unmarked Burials” and estimated that at least 3,200 children that attended residential schools never returned home. Since the TRC, this figure has grown, and it is believed that at least 6,000 children died in residential schools.
Image by the talented Haudenosaunee creator, Alanah Astehtsi Otsistohkwa (Morningstar)
After so many decades of skirting around the truth, it is now widely acknowledged that Canada’s history is a colonial history that has been darkly shaped by the state and institutions seeking to ‘civilize’ and Christianize Indigenous children.
So, where does this leave us? Reconciliation is an incredibly slow process, particularly when we continue to uncover graves at former residential school sites and work towards undoing an unprecedented amount of historic harm. But this does not mean that non-Indigenous people cannot do their own part in learning about the past.
For non-Indigenous people, we must remember that it is our responsibility to take the time to learn about Indigenous culture and the complex experiences Indigenous peoples face today. This knowledge is accessible – Indigenous peoples are enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge. For example, there are many events and performances being held in our communities today that serve as a great place to come together with Indigenous communities. Resources are also readily available, like the free Indigenous Canada course taught by the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta.
At Community Impact Consulting, we have spoken to a number of organizations that have a keen interest in educating themselves and working with Indigenous communities but have very little knowledge on how to do so. Whenever this happens, we encourage them to partner with Indigenous facilitators or organizations that can share their wealth of knowledge. Whether it be as an organization or individual, we should be making meaningful efforts and partnerships to honour, understand and celebrate Indigenous culture.