Earlier this year, the Government of Canada passed legislation to make Sept. 30 a federal statutory holiday called National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The creation of this statutory holiday demonstrates the efforts and commitment of the Canadian government to reconciliation and ensuring that the tragic history of the residential school system is never forgotten.

So, why are truth and reconciliation so important today?

For over 160 years, residential schools operated in Canada and placed more than 150,000 Indigenous children in these schools. With the exception of Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and New Brunswick, every province and territory in Canada introduced residential schools.

Children of First Nations, Métis and Inuit descent were forcibly removed from their families and communities to be placed in residential schools. These schools abolished and destroyed the connections these children had to their roots, including their traditions, cultural practices, knowledge and languages.

While residential schools no longer exist today, the scars and repercussions they induced run deep and still bear painful consequences for many families and communities that were torn apart.

The remains of 215 children were discovered at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, BC, in June. It was the first of several grim discoveries this year. More than 700 unmarked graves were detected using ground-penetrating radar at a former school site in Saskatchewan. And the Lower Kootenay Band also reported the discovery of what is believed to be 182 human remains close to a former residential school in Cranbrook.

Additional resident schools sites across the country are being searched for additional remains.

As we look ahead, we can strive towards a brighter future through truth and reconciliation.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was founded in 2008 through a legal settlement between residential school survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives, the federal government and church bodies.

The TRC’s mandate was to inform all Canadians of the tragedies that occurred in those residential schools, revealing the truth about what happened to the children, survivors, families, communities and anyone affected by the residential school system.

While history cannot be erased, the TRC aims to facilitate reconciliation among former residential school students, their families, communities and all Canadians across the country.

On National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we encourage you to take the day to acknowledge and reflect on the painful history of residential schools in Canada, and how we can support the communities still grieving.

Educating yourself on the experiences of residential school students, and their history is one way to support them. Building your compassion for the adversities they went through may move you to make a difference.

We recommend watching the National Film Board of Canada’s film, We Were Children, a documentary covering the story of two Indigenous children who were placed in residential schools, and the emotional and physical trauma they endured, and how that continued to affect them throughout their adult lives.

The film is available to rent from the Film Board, borrow from the Vancouver Public Library or watch on Amazon Prime.

In the past few years, Sept. 30 was also recognized as Orange Shirt Day. On Sept. 30, we encourage all UCW students, faculty and staff to wear an orange shirt to help raise awareness for residential school survivors.

Official orange shirts from the Orange Shirt Society are available to purchase from one of these retailers.

Virtual events are also available for you to participate in.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is hosting a Truth and Reconciliation Week starting Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, through Friday, Oct. 1, 2021.

The virtual event will feature a number of Indigenous guest speakers who will cover a different topic every day of the week.

Day one: Treaties, Land Claims and Unceded Territories

Day two: Language and Culture

Day three: Truth and Reconciliation

Day four: Orange Shirt Day

Day five: Knowledge Transfer – Elder and Youth Dialogues

For more information on Truth and Reconciliation Week, visit nctr.ca/education/trw.

Published on Sept. 24, 2021.