by Xavier Kataquapit
(Under the Northern Sky) – Finally Indigenous people all across Canada can feel some hope that Canadians and our governments are taking reconciliation seriously. The history and the proof of what colonization has done to my people all across this country has come to light and there can be no more ignoring the facts of so many horrific acts aimed at getting rid of the original inhabitants of this land. The time has come to deal with it all: the recent discoveries of hundreds of unmarked graves on former residential school sites, the realities of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, the 60s scoop, residential school abuse history, ongoing systematic racism, failure to honour treaties and the deliberate impoverishment economically and spiritually of Native peoples.
The National Day For Truth and Reconciliation which has been set aside as a federal statutory holiday by the federal government is a step in the right direction. The legislation to do this was unanimously supported by government in June of 2021. This day would never have happened if not for survivors like my own mother Susan and my father Marius and many, many other survivors who attested to the many wrongs and abuses aimed at assimilating Indigenous peoples and at the worst “getting rid of the Indian problem”.
The declaration of this special day came out of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which created 94 calls to action in their final recommendation. The 80th call to action was aimed at the Canadian government along with Indigenous leaders to create a new statutory holiday in honour of the survivors and families of the residential school reality. Happily this has been done but there is a lot more work to do. Most of the remaining 93 calls to action have yet to be met. We still have a long way to go but getting clean drinking water in Indigenous communities and settling treaties would be a good move forward as soon as possible.
For now we have a day where we can all reflect and discover just what colonization did to Indigenous people in this country. We can thank people like my late parents and thousands of other residential school survivors for sharing their tragic stories.
Truth and Reconciliation Day was born from Orange Shirt day which in turn originally came from the sharing of stories by survivors. In 2013 at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project in Williams Lake British Columbia, survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad shared her residential school story. As a child she was taken from her parents and sent to residential school where she had her new orange shirt removed and never returned. Her little orange shirt had been a present from her grandmother. The memory and image of her childhood orange shirt became a symbol of the terrible history of the residential school era. The date of September 30 was selected as the original Orange Shirt Day because this was the time of year that Indigenous children across the country were forcibly taken from their families to attend residential schools.
Alberta, Quebec and Ontario will not recognize the holiday as statutory but the remaining provinces and territories are acknowledging the new holiday but at varying levels of acceptance. The reactions of provincial governments range from Nova Scotia giving recognition to the holiday to that of Saskatchewan which will not officially acknowledge it but instead see its major cities identify the new holiday. The mixed reactions shows that the country is still very much divided in how or if to acknowledge the darker parts of the nation’s history.
The fact is that there has been some progress in terms of reconciliation but indifference, racism and ignorance is till alive and well in Canada when it comes to Indigenous peoples. Let’s hope that we keep moving forward in good faith to honour the remaining 93 calls to action.
A wonderful start would be for all Canadians to take a little time on September 30 to discover what those calls to action are and why and how they came about. This trail is long and full of challenges but it is also one of hope, justice and healing.
For more columns by Xavier Kataquapit visit underthenorthernsky.com.