National Day for Truth and Reconciliation 2023

September 28th, 2023

Northern Weldarc respectfully acknowledges we are located on Treaty 6 Territory known as Amiskwaciy (Am-isk-u-tee-wha-skago) – The Beaver Hills House. We would like to thank the many First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people whose ancestors have walked this territory and cared for these lands for generations.

Today I want to honour and remember the children who never returned home, the parents and grandparents who had their babies taken from them, some never to see their children again. The mothers, fathers, grandparents, that lost the right, from no fault of their own, to be a parent. They lost the right to teach the customs of their ancestors, they lost the right to laugh, to cry, to watch their babies grow to adulthood.

Today we honour and remember the survivors of residential schools, their families, and the communities that have suffered the terrible wrongs done to them.

What does Truth and Reconciliation Day really mean to me? I know what it doesn’t mean—that it’s “just another holiday.” It is a day that we remember our first true Canadians and what atrocities have been committed on them.

I have always been proud that I am a Canadian and proud of the fact that Canada welcomes so many different cultures and nationalities, people that came as refugees or wanted a better life. But when I learned the truth about residential schools, I was shocked and disgusted that this happened to our First Nations! I was embarrassed that I was a Canadian and didn’t know! I felt shame that I didn’t know what had happened to my friends and their families who are of Aboriginal decent! I was mad at myself, that they couldn’t speak to me or trust me about the terrible wrongs done to them and or their family! I am so sorry for that.

I asked my mother who is 86 years old what she remembered about residential schools. The answer may surprise you—she thought residential schools in our province were for children who either wanted a higher education or because there were no schools in the area for them to attend. In the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, rural schools were usually one room and taught grades 1-8. Remote areas did not have many schools; therefore children were homeschooled. Boy, was she blindsided by the truth!

What is Truth and Reconciliation Day? 

The Truth….

….of the terrible wrongs that were committed against the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island, which is now known as Canada.

….that more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children were forcefully taken from their parents, grandparents, and families to attend residential schools.

….that the Canadian Government wanted to eradicate Indigenous cultural, political identity, spiritual and religious ties of the First Nations, Metis and Inuit Peoples from the Canadian population.

….that for over 160 years young children were sent to residential schools, lived in cruel and unsafe conditions, and suffered from many abuses. They died from disease, neglect, and suicide.

The Reconciliation….

The Reconciliation is not just about acknowledging that residential schools occurred and that they were harmful. It’s about calling upon all Canadians to recognize the ideas and structures that created the residential schools in the first place and to rise against these cruel and unjust ways of thinking.

This is about establishing and maintaining respectful relationships and acknowledge that we do not yet live as a society that is based on mutual respect and understanding.

The Orange Shirt…

How does an Orange Shirt come to be a symbol of Truth and Reconciliation Day?

The Orange Shirt represents an orange shirt taken from a residential school survivor. She wore it proudly on her first day at a church-run residential school. Her mother bought her this shirt for her first day of school. But the school authorities stripped her of her clothes and cut her hair. They took her shirt away and of course she never got it back.

Wearing an orange shirt is a symbol and a reminder of the impact that residential schools caused.

An orange shirt honours the experiences of Indigenous peoples, celebrates resilience, and affirms a commitment that EVERY CHILD MATTERS.

When you see someone wearing an orange shirt or an orange symbol, take an opportunity to discuss the effects that these residential schools caused and the legacy it has had on our First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people.

Indigenous storytelling was a form of teaching and learning about their culture, beliefs and behaviours.

I would like to end this blog with the story of Seven Grandfathers.

A long time ago a messenger was sent to see how the Neshnabec (nesh-ne-beck) people were living and discovered that they were living their lives in a negative way which influenced their thoughts, decisions, and actions. Some had hatred for others, were disrespectful in their actions, were afraid, told lies, or cheated. Others revealed pride or were full of shame.

During this journey, the messenger came across a child, who was chosen to be taught by the Seven Grandfathers on how to live a good life. He was taught the lessons of love, respect, bravery, truth, honesty, humility, and wisdom.

Before departing, the Seven Grandfathers told the child, “Each of these teachings must be used with the rest. You cannot have wisdom without love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, and truth and you cannot be honest if you are only using one of the other teachings. To leave out one teaching would be embracing the opposite of what each of the teachings mean.” The Seven Grandfathers instructed the child on each principle. It was then up to the child to forget them, or to put them to use.

The moral of the story: each one of us represents the child. We must faithfully apply the teachings of the Seven Grandfathers to our own lives and never forget to be sincere in our actions, character, and words.

When you leave your home today, maybe the story you just read can be put to good use in your own personal lives.

What does Truth and Reconciliation Day really mean to me? I know what it doesn’t mean—that it’s “just another holiday.” It is a day that we remember our first true Canadians.

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