The history and importance of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day

Every September, Canada marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Established in 2021, this national statutory Holiday coincides with Orange Shirt Day.

Both days recognize the tragic legacy of Canada’s residential school system, the missing children, the families left behind and the survivors of these institutions.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR) honours the survivors of residential schools, the children who never returned home, and their families and communities. Public commemoration of the residential school system’s tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts is a vital component of the reconciliation process.

Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day intended to raise awareness of the individual, family and community intergenerational impacts of residential schools and to promote the concept that “Every Child Matters.” The orange shirt symbolizes the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.

On September 30, all Canadians are encouraged to wear orange to honour the thousands of Survivors of residential schools.

Canadians have recently become more aware of burial sites at residential school locations that have been long known about within Indigenous communities.

Over the past two years, hundreds of children’s remains have been found at the site of former Indian Residential Schools, including the discovery of 215 bodies at a former residential school in Kamloops, BC, which is a stark and heartbreaking reminder of the tragedy caused by the Residential School System and Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people.

Still, the revelations are news to many Canadians who were taught that Canada is a country that celebrates and embraces diversity.

History and importance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

There were 140 federally run residential schools in Canada, with the first opening in 1831. The practice continued across the nation for more than a century. Many of the schools ceased operations by the mid-1970s. However, the last school, which was in Saskatchewan, closed in 1996.

The Indian Residential School System contributed to Indigenous displacement across Canada. More than 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and relocated to residential schools that were often hundreds or even thousands of kilometres from their homes. We continue to see the lasting impacts of this oppressive system and the effects of intergenerational trauma more than 25 years after its abolishment.

Despite attempts at reconciliation from various levels of government, Indigenous people in Canada still face hardships and systemic inequalities.

Residential school survivors, Indigenous leaders and communities have advocated for recognition and reparations and demanded accountability for the intergenerational impacts of harm caused. Their efforts culminated in:

The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, May 2006

In May 2006, the Indian Residential School Agreement was approved by all parties to the Agreement, including legal counsel for former students, legal counsel for churches, the Assembly of First Nations, other Indigenous organizations and the Government of Canada. The implementation of the Settlement Agreement began in September 2007 to bring a fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of Indian Residential Schools.

Apologies by the government, June 2008

On June 11, 2008, then Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a Statement of Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools on behalf of the Government of Canada.

The establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), June 2008

The TRC was created through a legal settlement between residential school survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives and the parties responsible for developing and operating the schools, the federal government and church bodies.

The creation of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), September 2019

The NCTR was created as part of the mandate of the TRC of Canada. The TRC was charged with listening to survivors, their families, communities and others affected by the residential school system and educating Canadians about their experiences. The resulting collection of statements, documents and other materials now form the sacred heart of the NCTR.

It’s imperative to realize that the fight for Indigenous rights is far-reaching and goes beyond the scope of residential schools. The struggle for sovereignty and human rights in Indigenous communities has proven to be a longstanding issue in Canada.

The history and importance of Orange Shirt Day

During an event in Williams Lake, BC, in May 2013, the orange shirt was presented as a symbol of Indigenous peoples’ suffering caused by residential schools. The event led to the annual Orange Shirt Day on September 30 as a means of remembrance, teaching and healing.

The event was the idea of Esk’etemic (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, a residential school survivor. His vision was to bring witness to the residential school experience as a way to honour survivors, help in healing and contribute to reconciliation.

Among those who spoke at the event was Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) woman. When Phyllis was six years old and living with her grandma on the Dog Creek Reserve, she and her grandmother went to the local Robinson’s store to purchase a new outfit to start school. Phyllis was proud of her bright orange shirt that laced at the front.

Phyllis was sent to a residential school like her grandmother and mother before her. Immediately upon arriving, she and the other kids were stripped and forced into different clothing. She never again saw the orange shirt she got with her grandma.

From that event in Williams Lake and Phyllis Webstad’s speech came the idea to adopt the orange shirt as a symbol of remembrance, teaching and healing.

In July 2014, the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs-in-Assembly passed a resolution declaring September 30 Orange Shirt Day.

Resources to support Indigenous people in Canada

The Orange Shirt Society focuses on helping Indigenous communities heal from the legacy of residential schools.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is a place of learning and dialogue where the truths of the residential school experience will be honoured and kept safe for future generations.

The Government of Canada recognizes First Nations, Inuit and Métis as the Indigenous people in Canada, with unique cultures, traditions, communities and histories. The government organizes resources into four sections: First Nations, Inuit, Métis and additional resources to help you explore the history, languages, cultures and experiences of Indigenous people in Canada.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society gives survivors of the residential school system a platform to share their stories. Not only do they help educate Canadians about the extent of oppression Indigenous communities have suffered, but it also provides financial support to those who have been directly affected.

Global University Systems Canada acknowledges the traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, Haudenosaunee, Huron-wendat (Wyandot) and Kanien’keha:ka (Mohawk) on which our campuses are located.

Share our post