In May of 2021, many people were shocked to hear about the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia, Canada. The bodies belonged to Indigenous children as young as three years old. Survivors of the residential school system have long known the injustices and horrors that occurred over those years, but these new recoveries of unmarked graves have once again exposed the magnitude of this devastation to the greater population. In fact, the Memorial Register of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation lists over 4,000 Indigenous children and youth who died in Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.
On September 30, we in Canada will observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day honours the many children who were taken from their families to attend residential schools for the purpose of stripping them of their culture and language. In addition, it recognizes the trauma families who were ripped apart experienced for generations after. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a public commemoration of the tragic history and ongoing impacts of residential schooling. In Canada, there were 140 federally run residential schools that operated between 1831 and 1996. The horrific experiences of residential school survivors have had a grave impact on their lives and that of their families. Survivors of these schools have advocated for recognition and reparations and for the government to take responsibility for the intergenerational impacts of the harms that were caused. The efforts of these survivors have resulted in:
the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
the creation of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission ran for several years (2008-2015). As part of the research into Canada’s history of residential schooling, thousands of Indigenous peoples had the opportunity to share how residential schools affected them either directly or indirectly. After listening to these stories, the commission released its final report, which includes 94 calls to action. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a direct response to Call to Action 80, which calls for a federal statutory day of commemoration. Orange Shirt day will also take place on September 30. Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day which was intended to bring awareness to the impacts of residential schools on individuals, families, as well as intergenerational communities. Phyllis (Jack) Webstad proudly wore a bright orange shirt on her first day at Residential School in Williams Lake, British Columbia. It was taken from her and never seen again. Years later, Phyllis began Orange Shirt Day as a day to honour residential school survivors and stand up against bullying and racism. The mantra for Orange Shirt day is “Every Child Matters.”
I invite you, whether you live in Canada or elsewhere, to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30. Consider wearing an orange shirt to honour residential school survivors and stand up against bullying and racism. Think about answering the following questions: Who in your country has suffered from not being valued as image bearers of God? Whose story do you need to listen to?