By Angela Bellegarde, OKN’s Manager of Indigenous Strategy
September 30, 2022 marks Canada’s second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is a day all Canadians are called to commemorate and honour all Indigenous people who attended Residential Schools, especially those who did not make it home. It is a day to reflect but to also take meaningful actions in Canada’s reconciliation process.
Many of us know to wear orange shirts on September 30th but do you know why? The movement was started by Phyllis Webstad, who was excited to wear her orange shirt on her first day of attendance at Residential school. It was taken away from her and was the beginning of the trauma she would face during her school years. We wear orange to be reminded of how Residential Schools stripped the dignity, culture, and family away from Indigenous people in Canada.
Residential Schools Created an Identity Struggle Until Today
I have recently spent time in Saskatchewan with my extended family. Our stories of growing up together reflect the impact of Residential Schools on our lives. While we enjoyed immense love, we were also not taught our language, our songs, and our traditional spirituality. We learned how to define ourselves as “urban Indigenous”, and say quickly, “but I didn’t grow up on the reserve”. We had to learn how to deal with phrases like “you don’t look like one”. We needed to say these things to somehow differentiate ourselves from the stereotypical image most Canadians have of our people. For some reason, people thought they had the right to question our identity and determine if we were really Indigenous or not. Unfortunately, this colonial thinking persists today. We did not give up the right of self-determination; we signed treaties.
Canada’s colonial past have left many Indigenous people not knowing who their people are, and what their connection is to the land. They are the children and grandchildren of Residential School Survivors who were taught they were not good enough as non-Indigenous people, and to be ashamed of who they are as Indigenous people. This is heartbreaking to me.
How do you Honour Survivors this Day and Every Day?
I know my privilege. I can trace my people back to the signing of Treaty 4. I know where my family land is on my First Nation even though I never lived on the reserve. I know who I am and how I am situated in this world. Do you know your privilege?
On September 30th, reflect, wear orange, and take action to learn more about Truth and Reconciliation. Try to understand what your privilege is as a Canadian and how different it is from a Residential School Survivors experience.
If you are a Survivor and need emotional support, a national crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week:
Residential School Survivor Support Line: 1-866-925-4419