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How one privileged white thirder will spend the day

By Michelle Coffin

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation honours the children who never returned home from residential schools as well as those who survived Canada’s residential school system.

Wearing orange shirts on this day symbolizes the forced assimilation of Indigenous children that was enforced by the residential school system. The day is inspired by the real-life events of Phyllis Jack Webstad, whose personal clothing—including a new orange shirt just given to her by her grandmother—was taken from her while stripped during her first day of residential schooling, and never returned.

Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day intended to raise awareness of the individual, familial, and community inter-generational impacts of residential schools. It is a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.

My privileged white self

As I see it, many Indigenous peoples would love to see Canadians across the country wear orange to honour both victims and survivors of residential schools. The want us – they need us – to understand what truth and reconciliation means. And they are reaching out to us. Flip through previous issues of The Third and you can read their words.

Indigenous peoples need us to use this day to seek out truth and then take steps with them to find a path forward together. It means knowing the history, understanding the past relationships and the political decisions, and then working collectively to build a future based on a this new shared knowledge and understanding.

I know I like learning and I’m a people-person, but it sounds like a wonderful opportunity. We are being invited to ask the questions, why are we so hesitant to respond?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's reports document the history and legacy of Canada's residential school system. I think it’s a great place to start to get familiar with the truth side of the day. The Commission’s reports also include 94 Calls to Action to advance reconciliation. There’s the reconciliation side of the day.

For this Thirder, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a day to remember that while there is much to love about Canada, our history has a dark past and the Indigenous peoples of Canada played starring roles.

Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process. We can only meaningfully take part in reconciliation if both sides do their best to understand why there is a requirement to reconcile.

That is why on September 30 I will wear an orange shirt and find an event to honour those whose lives have been forever impacted by the residential school system.

I will also do the hard and painful work and read some the Commission’s reports. I will let the Principles of Reconciliation established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada guide my learning. The Commission believes that in order for Canada to flourish in the twenty-first century, reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canada must be based on the following principles.

Principles of Reconciliation

1 The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.

2 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, as the original peoples of this country and as self-determining peoples, have Treaty, constitutional, and human rights that must be recognized and respected.

3 Reconciliation is a process of healing of relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms.

4 Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destructive impacts on Aboriginal peoples’ education, cultures and languages, health, child welfare, the administration of justice, and economic opportunities and prosperity.

5 Reconciliation must create a more equitable and inclusive society by closing the gaps in social, health, and economic outcomes that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

6 All Canadians, as Treaty peoples, share responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships.

7 The perspectives and understandings of Aboriginal Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers of the ethics, concepts, and practices of reconciliation are vital to long-term reconciliation.

8 Supporting Aboriginal peoples’ cultural revitalization and integrating Indigenous knowledge systems, oral histories, laws, protocols, and connections to the land into the reconciliation process are essential.

9 Reconciliation requires political will, joint leadership, trust building, accountability, and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources.

10 Reconciliation requires sustained public education and dialogue, including youth engagement, about the history and legacy of residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal rights, as well as the historical and contemporary contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canadian society.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s reports can be found here, including the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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