For the first time in Canadian history, September 30, 2021 marks a National Day for Truth and
Reconciliation. Created by Parliament in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action #80, this federal holiday honours and commemorates the Indigenous children who died at residential schools, as well as the Indigenous Survivors, their families, and communities. This day recognizes the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools and asks Canadians to contemplate what reconciliation means to them.
From the 1870s -1990s, the Canadian government forcibly took Indigenous children between the ages of four and sixteen years from their families to attend the government-funded, Catholic Church-run residential schools with the purpose of completely eliminating parental involvement in the spiritual, cultural and intellectual development of Indigenous children. More than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children were taken to attend these schools, some of which were hundreds of miles from their homes. Although no one knows the exact number because of missing and destroyed records, it is estimated that between 4,000-6,000 children died in residential schools due to physical abuse, malnutrition, disease, neglect, suicide, and in trying to escape. This year, the horrifying discoveries of the remains of 215 Indigenous children found on the site of the former Kamloops residential School on May 27, and the 751 unmarked graves on the site of the former Marieval residential School on June 24, serve as stark reminders of the atrocities inflicted upon the Indigenous Peoples of Canada.
Prior to the Canadian federal holiday, September 30 was Orange Shirt Day, which reminded people to learn about residential schools, fight racism and bullying, and to every day uphold that “Every Child Matters”. Orange Shirt Day highlights the story of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, whose grandmother made her an orange shirt, which was taken away from her, along with all her other clothes, on her first day of residential school, and never returned. It is this time of the year that for over 100 years, Indigenous children were stolen from their homes.
The Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) – Ontario acknowledges that the cumulative impact of residential schools is a legacy of unresolved trauma passed from generation to generation and has had a profound effect on the relationship between Indigenous people and other Canadians.
FACL stands in solidarity with all Indigenous Peoples, families, and communities who were and continue to be impacted by the tragedies of colonialism, structural violence, and systemic racism that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s process aims to heal.
We take the opportunity that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation gives us to grapple with this disturbing reality of our national identity.
FACL understands the deep and rich history that Indigenous communities share with the land all over Turtle Island and indeed globally. In our efforts to foster diversity in the legal field and wider community, it is FACL’s responsibility to recognize our shared synergy with the people who are Indigenous to the land we call Ontario. FACL celebrates its role in amplifying the voices and experiences of Indigenous communities in all the work we do, and to do so in humility and gratitude for being able to live, work and play on this land. FACL Ontario acknowledges, among others, the Mississaugas, the Anishnaabek and the Haudenosaunee who have a particular connection to this region.
FACL also resolutely supports our Indigenous allies in advancing reconciliation and holding the responsible governments, institutions, and Catholic Church entities to account for their perpetration of the systemic oppression and genocide of Indigenous Peoples. FACL again calls on the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to listen to Indigenous communities, and to undertake concrete efforts to fully implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ 231 Calls for Justice. On this day, we honor the lost children, the Survivors, their families, and their communities.
To learn more, see the resources provided by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (https://nctr.ca/records/reports/) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (http://www.trc.ca/reconciliation.html). The National Residential School Crisis Line is available 24-hours a day for Survivors and family: 1-866-925-4419.
Notes to Further Reading