Canada has a complex history marred by the mistreatment and oppression of Indigenous peoples. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, observed on September 30, is a vital step towards acknowledging this painful past and forging a path toward healing, understanding and reconciliation.

The roots of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also referred to as Truth and Reconciliation Day, can be traced back to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 2008. The commission was tasked with uncovering the truth about the residential school system, which operated in Canada for more than a century. These schools forcibly separated Indigenous children from their families, stripping them of their language, culture and identity, and subjected them to abuse.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work culminated in the release of its final report in 2015, which included 94 calls to action aimed at addressing the legacy of residential schools and advancing reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Creating a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation that serves as an annual reminder of the commitment to these calls to action and a moment to reflect on the progress made and the work that still lies ahead.

On this day, Canadians from all walks of life come together to honour the survivors of residential schools and the children who never returned home. It is a time for reflection, learning and dialogue about the painful truths of the past. Many communities host events, such as ceremonies, workshops and cultural activities, to promote understanding and healing.

Truth and Reconciliation Day also plays a crucial role in education. Schools across the country take the opportunity to teach students about the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, the impact of colonialism and the ongoing struggles for justice and equity. It is a chance to foster empathy, compassion and a commitment to reconciliation among the younger generations.

Reconciliation is not a one-time event but an ongoing process that requires continued effort and dialogue. Truth and Reconciliation Day reminds us of the importance of acknowledging the past and committing to a future where Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples can coexist in harmony, respecting each other’s rights, cultures and contributions.

UCW And Reconciliation

In 2022, University Canada West hosted a special event featuring Phil Fontaine, former three-term National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Dr. Kathleen Mahoney, Professor of Law at the University of Calgary and the primary architect of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. They joined UCW President Sheldon Levy for a frank discussion about Canada’s history, the treatment of Indigenous people in Canada and the path to truth and reconciliation.

Also in 2022, Elder Rose Guerin of the Musqueam nation was appointed as UCW’s Elder-in-Residence. She has provided a traditional welcome and prayer at several UCW events over the past several years, including Convocation. Working with Elder Rose, UCW students, faculty, leadership and staff learned about Coast Salish culture, land, tradition and language. She also worked with Dr. Maureen Mancuso, UCW’s Vice President, Academic, to create an Indigenous Advisory Council to guide and support academic initiatives. The council held its first meeting in August and will help UCW in its efforts toward reconciliation, as it actively integrates Indigenous perspectives into its operations to create a respectful and transformative educational environment.

On Thursday, September 28, UCW will be hosting Together Toward Tomorrow: Reflecting, Reconnecting, and Reconciling, a special event for students marking National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The event will take place from 10 am to 12 pm at the East Building Lobby of the Vancouver House Campus. The event will feature a special performance from Inuvialuit musician Willie Thrasher. Students can RSVP for the event via Circle.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a solemn yet hopeful occasion. It is a day to confront the painful truths of our history, but it is also a day to recognize the resilience and strength of Indigenous peoples. It is a day that calls us to action, to work towards a future where reconciliation is not just a word but a lived reality. It is a day when Canadians come together to say, “We hear you, we see you and we are committed to a better future for all.”

Published on September 22, 2023.