The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is recognized in Canada every year on September 30.

This important day honours the Indigenous children who never returned home and the survivors of Canada’s residential schools, as well as their families and communities.

Commemorating and understanding this tragic and painful history, along with the ongoing impacts of residential schools is a critical component of the reconciliation process.

What is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

Between 1831 and 1996, there were 140 federally run residential schools operating in Canada.

The residential school system forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families for extended periods of time and prohibited them from acknowledging their Indigenous heritage and culture or speaking their languages.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established through a legal settlement between residential school survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives and the federal government and church bodies in response to the lifelong repercussions of these residential schools.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission ran from 2009 to 2015 and provided individuals and communities directly and indirectly affected by the ramifications of the schools with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences.

During its time, the Commission composed a comprehensive report on the policies and operations of the residential schools and their lasting impacts. In 2015, the Commission released its final report detailing the 10 Principles for Reconciliation and 94 Calls to Action that speak to all sectors of Canadian society.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a direct response to Call to Action 80, which called for a federal statutory day of commemoration.

In 2021, the Canadian federal government enacted Call to Action 80 and established September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

What is the importance of Truth and Reconciliation Day?

Approximately 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend residential schools that assimilated their cultures, languages, traditions and heritage.

In these schools, children were often severely punished for speaking their languages or incorporating their culture. They were also often physically, sexually, emotionally and psychologically abused by the residential school staff.

The quality of education taught in these schools was poor. Children were educated with learning materials only up to lower grades that focused mainly on prayer and manual labour in agriculture, woodworking, laundry work and sewing.

Residential schools systematically undermined Indigenous culture and disrupted generations of families, severing the ties by which Indigenous culture is taught and sustained – leaving many residential school children to grow up without experiencing a nurturing family life or the knowledge and skills to raise their own families.

On June 11, 2008, the Government of Canada issued a formal apology in Parliament for the damages done by the residential school system. While this was a step towards reconciliation, the deep-rooted effects remain irreversible.

The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation marks a day to remember and honour the lives and communities lost and forever impacted by the discriminatory system in Canada.

Recognizing Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada provides the public and communities in Canada a chance to commemorate the intergenerational harm and impact that residential schools caused and honour those affected by this injustice.

What is Orange Shirt Day?

September 30 also marks Orange Shirt Day, an Indigenous-led grassroots movement founded by Phyllis Webstad in 2013. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the individual, family and community impacts of residential schools, and promote the concept of “Every Child Matters.”

The Orange Shirt Day campaign grew out of Phyllis’ own experiences and the experiences of other residential school survivors who attended St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake in British Columbia.

The orange shirt is an important symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.

Every year on September 30, Canadian residents are encouraged to wear orange to honour the thousands of survivors of residential schools.

Educational resources on Truth and Reconciliation

Learning about and becoming educated on the history of Canada’s National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is one step towards reconciliation.

Here are some resources to help start the journey towards reconciliation:

Published September 29, 2022.