Today marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, as declared in June by the Government of Canada.
According to the Government of Canada website, the day honours the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.
“For me, the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, it’s important for Indigenous people as it honours the stolen children that never came home and survivors of residential schools,” said Jordan Courtepatte, President of Enoch Cree Hockey Association. “It also uncovers the dark history of the Canadian government’s treatment of Indigenous people and the atrocities the kids faced while attending the residential schools.”
In May, 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children were recovered in Kamloops, BC, at the site of a residential school. Since then, hundreds more have been uncovered across Canada. The National Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates there are thousands yet to be found.
According to a CBC article more than 150,000 First Nation, Metis and Inuit children were forced to attend church-run, government-funded schools between the 1870s and 1997. Children were removed from their families and culture and forced to learn English, embrace Christianity and adopt the customs of the country’s white majority. Survivors often do not talk about their experience at the residential schools due to the physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse they suffered during their time at the schools.
“My Kookum, which is my grandmother, she was in residential school and that had a negative impact on my family. My Dad and all my uncles and aunties, they grew up in day school, foster care and eventually a lot of them were incarcerated, and that played a big impact in my life,” said Courtepatte. “We struggled coming up, but luckily my mother is a great mother and she helped break the cycle for my brother and I. Now we’ve broken the cycle for our kids and we hope to continue that and try to help build a better place for our kids to live in.”
First Nations Elders call September “the crying month” as that was when children would be taken from their homes. Orange Shirt Day – recognized on September 30 each year - is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC in May 2013. As part of the event, Phyllis Webstad told her story about being given a beautiful orange shirt by her grandmother for her first day of residential school. That shirt was taken away from her on her first day and never returned.
Through the power of social media, Orange Shirt Day has grown to be a national movement. This year, it will coincide with National Truth and Reconciliation Day.
“The National Truth and Reconciliation Day is important for everyone. It shows that action is taking place, the building of trust between Indigenous people. It also helps build the relationship between Indigenous people by bringing the dark history to light and creating an open dialogue of conversations that need to happen,” said Courtepatte. “I feel I have an obligation to my kids, and one day their kids, to help create a positive environment for them to live in. We all live in this country together and it’s going to take a collective effort to help make this place better for the present and future for all of us.”
Many members of the Alberta hockey community have their own residential school experience and orange shirt story to tell.
Today, we wear orange to remember the lost children and recognize the survivors of residential schools, their families and communities, acknowledge the truth of the dark history associated with residential schools, and begin conversations of reconciliation.