Thursday, September 30th, 2021, marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day honours the lost children, the Survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities.

Image Credit: National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

Public commemoration of this tragic and painful history and the ongoing impacts of residential schools is a crucial component of the reconciliation process.

September 30th is both National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as well as Orange Shirt Day. Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led commemorative day that honours the survivors and the children who were lost at residential schools. The start of the Orange Shirt Day is derived from Phyllis Webstad’s experience, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. On her first day at a residential school, Phyllis wore a brand-new orange shirt that was immediately taken from her. The Orange Shirt is now a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over many generations. A way to be an ally is to dawn an Orange Shirt on Thursday, September 30th.

The residential school system ran for 120 years, the last one ran as late as 1997 and may have experienced a high number of deaths. Some schools experienced a death rate as high as 1 death per 20 students.

On May 28th, 2021, when the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation informed the public of the grim discovery of what are believed to be the 215 unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., Canadians faced the horrific realities Indigenous children and youth lived with while being forced to attend the schools. On June 4th, 2021, it was announced that 104 graves were discovered at the Brandon Indian Residential School in Brandon, MB. June 25th, 2021, as many as 751 unmarked graves were discovered at the Marieval Indian Residential School in Marieval, SK. June 30th, 2021, 182 unmarked graves were announced at St.Eugene’s Mission Residential School, near Cranbrook, BC. On July 12th, 2021, it was made public that 160 unmarked graves were found at the site of Kuper Island Indian Industrial School off Vancouver Island. It is possible that some of the unmarked graves may contain more than one body.

While the shocking discoveries led to an outpour of support, grief, and news coverage, Indigenous people and advocates say that it has been long known that many children were forcibly removed from their families and put into residential schools never to return home.

You may be asking yourself how you can support National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Memorial, cultural, and educational events are being held across Canada. The Department of Canadian Heritage is asking Canadians to read and reflect on residential schools.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has released a flag to commemorate and honour the survivors of residential schools. 9 different elements were chosen for the flag by 30 residential school survivors.

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc nation is inviting people to learn the Secwépemc Honour Song, traditionally sung at Secwépemc gatherings. They are encouraging drumming and singing at 2:15 p.m. PT, September 30th, to mark the day.

What else can you do on September 30th? Review the 94 Truth and Reconciliation calls to action and commit to at least one. Watch online events hosted by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. Purchase and read Phyllis Webstad’s book, “Phyllis’ Orange Shirt“.

Wear your orange shirt and mourn the thousands of children who lost their lives to residential schools.

The National Residential School Crisis Line 1-866-925-4419

Published by HOLR Magazine.