Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a day to reflect on our country’s tragic history of Residential Schools and honour Indigenous children, Survivors, their families, and communities. September 30th marks the third annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day. This federal statutory holiday honours the Survivors of Residential Schools, their families, and communities.
Many non-Indigenous Canadians don’t fully grasp reconciliation or how they can genuinely connect and participate. Here’s a guide that delves into the day’s significance, explains the meaning of reconciliation from an Indigenous perspective, and suggests strategies for more purposeful contributions.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
From the 19th to the 20th centuries in Canada, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were systematically removed from their families to attend residential schools. Many unmarked graves have recently been unearthed, and it’s estimated that more than 6,000 children lost their lives within the confines of those institutions. Those who did survive often faced the painful loss of connection to their families, languages, and cultural traditions.
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation offers us a gift. It is an invitation to reflect on our history and commit to learning from our collective past. It’s an opportunity for both Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous Canadians to come together to shape a much more compassionate legacy than the one we’ve inherited.
What does reconciliation mean?
Wanda Brascoupé, the curator of Unite for Change’s Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Fund, describes reconciliation from an Indigenous perspective as a pivotal moment to acknowledge, “Yes, this really did happen and it’s a part of our history. It’s a tiny reckoning—a realization that this is not who we thought we were, but this is who we are.”
An Onkwehon:we and Anishinabe kwe, Wanda says that at its most minimal, reconciliation is about reminding ourselves of what happened to prevent it from ever happening again. It’s recognizing the need to learn about this horrifying part of our history to better understand it. Wanda recommends always beginning with compassion.
“This is a day to be less judgmental. If you’re living in an urban centre and you see Indigenous People that may be on the street corner, ask ‘what happened to you?’ and not, ‘what’s wrong with you?’,” she said. “You view humanity differently from a place of care, compassion, curiosity, and knowing.”
So, what can non-Indigenous Canadians do to better engage in reconciliation in a way that’s more meaningful? Here are some things to consider.
How to honour National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day
Instead of relying on “how-to lists” to support National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Wanda believes in tapping into one’s unique motivation for a deeper connection with reconciliation on this day and throughout the year.
“Ask yourself—where do your values come in? Accept, digest, lean into, and be humbled by what the future can bring,” says Wanda. “It’s about helping people find the internal motivation and values that help them connect on a deeper level with reconciliation, so they can work past whatever blocks they may have to take more action.”
Find motivation through what you love
Whether you’re passionate about music, astronomy, movies, or dance, you can integrate Indigenous knowledge into your creativity and interests. There’s a wealth of Indigenous creativity and brilliance to explore, whether you find it on YouTube, Spotify, or in your local library. Simply adding “Indigenous” to any search can lead to inspiring worlds and content. Wanda explains, “whatever you’re naturally inclined toward, that’s part of your natural way. Maybe you love poetry. Maybe you love architecture. Maybe you want to be an astronaut. Just add in ‘Indigenous Peoples’ to any of those topics.”
For example, searching “Indigenous music” on Spotify introduces listeners to cool playlists like Atikamekw singer-songwriter Laura Niquay, Wiikwemkoong music producer and DJ Ziibiwan, and Inuk singer Beatrice Deer.
Listen to award-winning Indigenous podcasts
If podcasts are your thing, you know that the best ones have the power to expand our awareness of current issues and inspire by using real life stories of remarkable people. They can also offer us a better understanding of reconciliation and the experiences of Residential School Survivors. There’s an array of award-winning podcasts readily available that highlight the importance of Indigenous voices and stories.
Wanda has a few podcasts she highly recommends including, Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s by Indigenous journalist, Connie Walker, who recently won both a Peabody Award and Pulitzer Prize for her work on this incredible investigation into her father’s abuse at a residential school in Canada.
Another recommendation is CBC’s podcast Kuper Island, hosted by Anishinaabe journalist Duncan McCue. This compelling eight-part series explores the legacy of one of British Columbia’s most notorious residential schools, where generations of children were ripped away from their families and subjected to genocidal abuses.
Discover where you live on Native Land
Another important layer to reconciliation is educating yourself about the history and people of the land we live on. One interesting way to do that is exploring the digital mapping website Native-Land.ca. This cool resource and educational tool gives visual insight into the nations, territories, and languages that surround us here in Canada and around the world. Browse the global map, search by postal code, and discover colourful representations of the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis territories in your area and beyond.
Give back in tangible ways
If you want to show your support in more quantifiable ways, a great place to start is by donating to Indigenous-led charities that mean something to you.
Whether you care deeply about the environment, theatre, wellness, or dance, there’s an Indigenous charity and organization that serves these areas and can benefit from your support.
Start by having a look at Unite for Change’s Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Fund, which includes more than 50 Indigenous-led charities from all over Canada, with missions that range from children and housing to post-secondary education and environmental stewardship. Wanda is the fund’s curator and says there’s no shortage of incredible organizations to support.
“Indigenous People and Indigenous-led organizations have answers. They are brilliant. They have ingenuity. They work in systems that are not necessarily made for them and are still making, standing with, and supporting who they serve. Every day,” Wanda shared. “And that’s why I support them. That’s why I try to use this platform to shed light on that. They have answers, and they’re doing the work.”
Final thoughts on how to support truth and reconciliation
On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and indeed throughout the year, take time to revisit, reconnect, and re-engage with reconciliation in order to bear witness to the ongoing trauma from Canada’s residential schools. With clearer intentions, genuine connections, and compassion, we carry forward the truth and help shape a brighter future.
“It may not happen in this decade, but let’s think about the seven generations ahead of us. If we do our heavy lifting within our own home, among our friends, and within our own circles, our children, our great-grandchildren will say that the generation from 2015 to 2055 did the heavy lifting. That way, they don’t have to,” Wanda said.
This article was written by Heather Maxwell Hall. She is a Vancouver Island-based freelance writer and editor who’s been creating content for diverse publications and clients over a decade.