Today is the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. It is an extension of what we used to call Orange Shirt Day, which was a day set aside to remember the lost children and the survivors of Canada’s residential school system.
In short, First Nations children were taken from their parents and placed in residential schools. The goal was to “take the Indian out of the child”, according to Sir John A. McDonald. The result was schools that were unfunded, where children received the bare minimum of care, and where many ultimately died of neglect and disease. Those that survived lost the vital link with their culture and had to deal with the trauma of their experience for the rest of their live.
Orange Shirt Day/the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a difficult day. Canadians like to think that we are a tolerant, progressive culture, but like most (all?) countries we have many dark periods. The residential school system lasted well into my lifetime, and it still has repercussions today. We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can work to make sure it never happens again.
One small, simple step is to actively recognize that we live on lands that were once, and still are, part of the First Nations. Many organizations, schools, and businesses in Canada now do land acknowledgements daily or at the start of an event. If you’d like to discover which land you live on, I highly recommend Native-Land.ca. (I live on the lands of the Haudenosaunee and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations, among others.)
The Orange Shirt Society has produced a video about Canadian relations with the First Nations and the history of the residential school system.
You may live somewhere where something similar to this happened. Or, perhaps your country has its own dark issues it is trying to deal with and heal from. Sometimes it is hard to face to past, especially when it is something terrible that you know you would never, ever condone. But, as they say, if we don’t study the past we are bound to repeat it.