Wednesday, September 29, 2021

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

September 30, 2021, marks the first observance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Previously observed as Orange Shirt Day, this is the first year the day will be observed as a federal statutory holiday.
Orange Shirt Day is the legacy of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad and the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events as a way to commemorate the residential school experience. It’s a way to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. The date of September 30 was chosen because that is the time of year in which children were taken to residential schools. The colour orange was chosen because of Webstad’s personal experience of her brand-new orange shirt being taken from her on her first day at a residential school.
“I’m urging all New Brunswickers to take the time to try and understand the lasting impacts of the residential school systems,” said New Brunswick Union President Susie Proulx-Daigle.
Discovery of unmarked graves spurred government to action
So far, more than 1,300 suspected graves have been found at former residential school sites in Canada. It is estimated that over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children attended residential schools in Canada. Residential schools were funded by the Canadian government and operated in partnership with Christian churches of different denominations.
Unmarked graves should not have been needed to spur the government into fast-tracking the bill to recognize the federal statutory holiday. The testimony from survivors about the heinous abuse inflicted on them and their peers at residential schools should have been enough. Observing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is long overdue.
Residential schools a joint venture between Canadian government and churches
The Catholic church ran 60 per cent of residential schools in Canada. Pope Francis has so far refused to apologize for the role the Catholic church played in Canada’s residential school system, even after the United, Presbyterian and Anglican churches issued apologies for their role. Having no unified central agency to deal with means some Catholic entities are refusing to release any records related to residential schools. These records would be invaluable in identifying the children in the unmarked graves, as well as assisting survivors with legal battles and closure.
First Nation, Métis, and Inuit delegations are scheduled to meet with Pope Francis in Rome between December 17 and 20, though the trip isn’t endorsed by all Indigenous people. Assembly of First Nations National Chief, RoseAnne Archibald, is in favour of the Pope making the apology in Canada as opposed to in the Vatican. And some are ambivalent towards an apology, feeling that rings hollow after so much time has passed.
Canada’s colonial legacy
Many of the documents on residential schools kept by the Canadian government were destroyed in the 1930s and 1940s. Though the government has handed over many documents pertaining to residential schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, some documents remain sealed and are the subject of legal battles (CBC News).
The era of residential schools may be over, but the effects are still felt to the present day. Indeed, the colonial mindset that created the residential school system still exists, whether the government admits to it or not. Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, Cindy Blackstock, told CTV News that governments have been continuously underfunding public services on reserves for Indigenous children since the time of confederation to the point where the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the government guilty of discrimination.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation must be given proper respect
It’s disgraceful that many provincial governments – including New Brunswick – have chosen to not make the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a statutory holiday. Though these governments claim they are working with survivors and Indigenous groups to honour the day, they are sending a clear message that those administrations do not believe every child is equal and that the deaths of Indigenous children at the hands of the government and churches do not matter.
This September 30, the New Brunswick Union (NBU) and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) urges all members to commit themselves to reconciliation. Participate in community events online or in person. Make it a priority to read material or watch programming from Indigenous academics, activists, organizations, and leaders, or take time to listen to presentations. Talk to your children about the importance of reconciliation. Write to your MP and MPP and ask what steps they’ve taken towards reconciliation.
The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has set up a website for Canadians to send a letter to the Prime Minister and ask him to make reconciliation an urgent priority for the new government. The CLC has also planned an online event to text Canadians and invite them to take action on reconciliation and send a letter to the Prime Minister. The event is planned for 2 p.m. (Atlantic time) on September 30 and you can use this link to register.
“For reconciliation to truly happen, we all need to work together. Individuals, institutions, organizations, companies, and governments all have a role to play,” said NUPGE President, Larry Brown. “It’s up to individuals to ensure governments live up to their promises of reconciliation. We’ve already seen that, without oversight, they are happy to keep the status quo.”
“This day is long overdue, but we must remember what has taken and continue to pressure elected officials for change, not just today but everyday going forward,” said NBU President Susie Proulx-Daigle.
“The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is about recognizing our past but also our present,” said NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer, Bert Blundon. “Our present systems that serve Indigenous people mirror the ones of the past. We can’t have reconciliation until we end current systems of oppression.”