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  • Caylie Gnyra

National Day For Truth and Reconciliation: Orange Shirts And Learning Opportunities

Cree camp in September 1871 near Lat N. 53 Long W. 111, south of present-day Vermilion. Photograph University of Saskatchewan Library, University Archives and Special Collections, Brock Silversides fonds, file 2.2-10-p04 (copy of Library and Archives Canada photo C-5181).

Local businesses and educational institutions recognized the third anniversary of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation—Canada’s newest federal statutory holiday—on September 30, in a variety of ways, ranging from somber to celebratory.

The establishment of the statutory holiday emerged as the result of one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action released in 2015. The TRC spent six years travelling throughout Canada to hear the stories of more than 6,500 witnesses of the 140 Indian Residential Schools federally operated in Canada between 1867 and 1996. Most of these witnesses were Survivors of the schools. This federal holiday honours the tragic loss of life and enduring effects that resulted from these boarding schools that stripped Indigenous individuals and communities of their language, culture, and connections to each other and the land they had loved and known intimately for generations.

The orange shirt has become a symbol of resilience, hope, reconciliation, and a shared commitment to a better future. This symbol emerged out of the personal story of Northern Secwpemc woman Phyllis Webstad, who had her personal clothing, including a new orange shirt given to her by her grandmother, taken from her on her first day of residential school and never returned. Wearing an orange shirt recognizes the tremendous losses and forced assimilation experienced by Indigenous communities as a result of residential schools, and affirms that Every Child Matters. Students and staff at local schools wore orange shirts throughout the preceding week in a show of solidarity.

In the morning of September 28, VES staff and students engaged in learning with local Cree educator Kevin John and They Build Bridges on the BTPS National Truth and Reconciliation Day. In the afternoon, students participated in teacher-led activities. St. Jerome’s delivered a land recognition each morning throughout the week, and students participated in art and cooking activities based around First Nations’ traditions. Their morning prayers and Mass held on the Thursday focused on Truth and Reconciliation, while Happigram celebrations told the story of how Orange Shirt Day came to be.

Tinisha Young, Indigenous Student Support Manager at Lakeland College, organized a powwow held on the Lloydminster campus on Thursday, September 28 beginning at 1 p.m. and livestreamed to the Vermilion campus. The following day, she held Pihtokwe (Cree for “come in”) Talks and an all-day smudge (praying with the smoke of sacred plant medicines) on the Lloydminster campus, fostering a safe space for individuals to ask questions. Cree Lakeland College Alumni and current Board of Governors member Dr. Sean Lessard is proud of the work the college has done in working toward reconciliation and encourages members of the community to take time to pause and consider the next steps in moving toward meaningful new relationships.

For those unsure of how to appropriately engage with this day, reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action online is a good place to start. Businesses might consider donating a portion of their sales to Indigenous healing organizations; for example, The Red Brick has donated $2 from every pumpkin spice latte sold on September 30 to the Indian Residential School Survivor Society. Treaty 6 Métis educator Megan Tipler advises, “Learn about Indigenous brilliance and success as much as you learn about Indigenous suffering and trauma.”

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