The Day of Truth and Reconciliation is a day to… well, saying celebrated and honoured brings into question just what we are honouring. So, maybe remembered? It’s hard to use a single word that encompasses all that the day is supposed to represent. In the end, it is a day to reflect on Canada’s legacy with its Indigenous population and what it did to them.
In the schools, it’s Orange Shirt Day. A concept easier to deal with but one that doesn’t say everything it should. When I found out that the students at my sons’ Montreal school would be wearing orange shirts September 30, I decided that the day should be one of teaching why there is a Truth and Reconciliation Day. It was a call to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but one that only started last year after the unmarked graves of residential school children were discovered and shocked many mainstream Canadians and people around the world.
Last year, children were allowed to wear orange shirts, but little was done in the schools. I contacted my sons’ school and asked if they would be interested in having me talk to the kids about the day and the Cree of James Bay. Principal Dina Vourdousis of Carlyle Elementary School thought it was a great idea. I told her I would make it age appropriate and talk about more than just the residential schools but also about growing up in an Indigenous territory and how it influenced the direction I would choose to live my life. I explained that it would have to be understood I could not speak on behalf of all Indigenous First Nations and their experiences.
I see what has been done by the government to provide resources for schools, but it must be remembered that this is the same government that created those residential schools. Some of which were okay, but most were mediocre at best. They do not adequately cover or educate about the issues faced by Indigenous Peoples.
Certain aspects of the residential school system can be seen to this day. The number of Indigenous children in foster care. The infamous Sixties Scoop, with catalogues depicting Indigenous children you could purchase for adoption. The systematic racism faced by Indigenous people by government and public services and agencies. The Buffalo Jump program can be seen in the poverty of Indigenous communities, a lack of a viable economy as traditional lands are exploited. And, of course, the problems with clean water to drink or clean yourself with.
That is why Indigenous organizations and people who are outside their communities have a role to play. Reach out, share and teach the children about what is behind truth and reconciliation. This is how we can ensure that it never happens again. It is something that all Indigenous people should be doing. It will even lessen that fear of the stranger which can lead to racist beliefs. When you know someone, it is harder to dehumanize them or make them out to be the problem.
Let us tell our story in our own way with the truth as we lived it then and now. At the school, I have no desire to send the children home crying and shell-shocked. I want them to have some idea of who we are, what we have experienced both the good and the bad. This is so Canada’s Indigenous Peoples aren’t something that they have only seen through the filter of media. We need to be in their lives as they are in ours.
Think about doing something once a year for your people. It should also be done in our own schools as some youth have no idea of why this affects their parents and even them. It is time for Indigenous people to make this day mean something more than a few moments once a year.