The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day is set to be marked on the 30th of September, 2022. But what does it signify?
Popularly called Orange Shirt Day, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a holiday aimed at recognizing the legacy of the Canadian Indian residential school system.
The Indian residential school system was a network of boarding schools for Indigenous peoples. It was created to isolate Indigenous children from the influence of their own native culture and religion in order to assimilate them into the dominant Canadian culture.
The schools were intentionally located at substantial distances from Indigenous communities to minimize contact between families and their children.
The residential school system harmed Indigenous children significantly by removing them from their families, depriving them of their ancestral languages, and exposing many of them to physical and sexual abuse. Students were also subjected to forced enfranchisement as “assimilated” citizens that removed their legal identity as Indians.
The use of an orange shirt as a symbol was inspired by the accounts of Phyllis Jack Webstad, whose personal clothing—including a new orange shirt—was taken from her during her first day of residential schooling, and never returned. The orange shirt is thus used as a symbol of the forced assimilation of Indigenous children that the residential school system enforced.
While it is a federal statutory holiday, the provinces have the option of declaring it a holiday as well.
Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have declared Sept. 30 a statutory holiday.
“While this is a day to commemorate the tragic history of residential schools and honour those who did not make it home, as well as their survivors and families, I would encourage all to reflect and be reminded that reconciliation is not just one day of the year,” New Brunswick Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn said in a statement last week.
For many residential school survivors, the day will always be known as Orange Shirt Day and efforts at the grassroots level to acknowledge the pain and trauma Indigenous children were subjected to at residential schools should continue to be recognized.
The discovery last year of what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at a former school site in Kamloops, B.C., forced the country to listen to what survivors had been saying for years.