National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

September 29, 2021 | 0 comments

We will start to recognize September 30 (which is widely known as Orange Shirt Day) is now the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It provides an opportunity to recognize and commemorate the tragic history and ongoing legacy of residential schools, and to honour their survivors, their families, and their communities.  The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is dedicated to reflecting on the history of the residential school system and the discoveries of many unmarked graves.  It is a sad day and finally recognizing the history that was done and we are not proud of, nor should we be.  Everyone should educate yourself about residential schools through the stories of survivors.

Cultural safety means an environment which is spiritually, socially, and emotionally safe, as well as physically safe for people, for all people where there is no assault, challenge, or denial of their identity, of who they are and what they need.  Cultural safety is an outcome based on respectful engagement that recognizes and strives to address power imbalances inherent and the cultural humility involves humbly acknowledging oneself and is about creating an environment that is safe for Aboriginal.

Residential schools systematically undermined Indigenous, First Nations, Métis and Inuit cultures across Canada and disrupted families for generations, severing the ties through which Indigenous culture is taught and sustained, and contributing to a general loss of language and culture.  It should be a culture and language that should be encouraged, as with every culture in this world.

Residential schools were created by Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into Canadian society. However, the schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples due to the abductions, killing and torture and the gross human rights violations that were perpetrated.  This day calls on all Canadians to remember the history of residential schools, through the experience and the intergenerational impacts of its legacy on First Nations and Indigenous peoples.

Beyond the horrors of the Kamloops discovery, the stark reminder of residential school abuses forces us all to take a serious look at how these institutions came into existence by churches (primarily Anglican, Methodist, Cristian missionaries, United, Presbyterian and the most being Roman Catholic) and governments and how long after they were widely known to be breaching human rights laws.  In total, an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children attended residential schools, and it is estimated over 6,000 children died at the residential schools.  Between 1831 and 1996 there were over 130 residential schools operating in Canada with 80 in 1931, which was the most at one time in our history.

Overall, students had a negative experience at the residential schools, one that would have lasting consequences. Students were isolated and their culture was disparaged or scorned. They were removed from their homes and parents and were separated from some of their siblings, as the schools were segregated according to gender. In some cases, they were forbidden to speak their first language, even in letters home to their parents. The attempt to assimilate children began upon their arrival at the schools: their hair was cut (in the case of the boys), and they were stripped of their traditional clothes and given new uniforms. In many cases they were also given new names. Staff spent a lot of time and attention on religious practices, while at the same time they criticized or denigrated Indigenous spiritual traditions.  Many students suffered abuse at residential schools. Impatience and correction often led to excessive punishment, including physical abuse. In some cases, children were heavily beaten, chained or confined. Some of the staff were sexual predators, and many students were sexually abused. When allegations of sexual abuse were brought forward — by students, parents, or staff — the response by government and church officials was, at best, inadequate.

Nutritional deficiencies and overcrowding led to regular outbreaks of diseases at the schools. Tuberculosis and influenza were the major killers, but students were also affected by outbreaks of smallpox, measles, typhoid, diphtheria, pneumonia, and whooping cough.

It is also important to understand that unfortunately, Aboriginal workers also frequently encounter racism and prejudice from co-workers and non-Indigenous clients as well as society members in general. It is important to be aware that these experiences can range from overt racism, such as derogatory name-calling, to the subtle but equally toxic prejudice and assumptions.

On 11 June 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of the Government of Canada, offered an apology to all former students of residential schools in Canada. The apology openly recognized that the assimilation policy on which the schools were established was “wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country.”  In 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau established the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.  The government is also recognizing the residential school system as an event of historic significance in Canada.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was officially launched in 2008 as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). Intended to be a process that would guide Canadians through the difficult discovery of the facts behind the residential school system, the TRC was also meant to lay the foundation for lasting reconciliation across Canada.  The TRC was created as a result of the IRSSA. This multi-faceted agreement, widely understood to be one of the largest settlement packages in the history of the country, was intended to compensate survivors for the harms they suffered in residential schools, and to work towards a more just and equitable future for Indigenous peoples.

The Orange Shirt Society is a non-profit organization with its home in Williams Lake, BC where Orange Shirt Day began in 2013. … To create awareness of the individual, family, and community inter-generational impacts of Indian Residential Schools through Orange Shirt Society activities.  Orange Shirt Day originates from the story of Phyllis Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation.

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