"Today, Canada celebrates its first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation."
What do you as a reader make of that statement? I must confess, I dislike it. Specifically, I dislike that the word “celebrate” is part of that statement. We “celebrate” things we’re proud of, things we’re happy for and things that we look forward to. I cannot imagine that there is a Canadian alive today who is proud of the events that made a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation necessary. Nevertheless, it is indeed the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and we should certainly celebrate it as such. It would not be enough to merely “observe.”
Our Legacy of Colonialism
For those who may be unaware, the catalyst for this first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation was the discovery of unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools. These institutions, run by a variety of Christian churches on behalf of the Canadian government as late as 1996, were meant to help assimilate the peoples of the First Nations. In other words, to rob them of their culture, language and identity, and to suppress upon them the values of Europe, Christianity, and their colonizers. The students of these schools were between 4 and 16 years of age. To call these anything other than egregious acts of colonial cruelty would be a lie, and the sad truth of the matter is that it is only one of many.
When I say that this is “our” legacy of colonialism, I mean to encompass all of Canada. We cannot claim to be part of this nation without acknowledging the harm that it has done to those who came before it, and the harm it has continued to do in the present day. After all, this holiday is simply one of the requests the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made in 2015. It is a holiday six years in the making, and it took the discovery of literal mass graves to be actioned. If this is not proof that we as a nation have done too little to support our Indigenous citizens, it is at the very least a shameful reminder that we tend to let matters concerning the First Nations get lost in the shuffle.
The most important thing is that we not only acknowledge Canada’s colonialist history, but also understand the impact of that on the Indigenous people. We need to, collectively as Canadians, rectify the mistake that was committed in the past. Canada’s transitional justice for Indigenous people is nowhere close to a perfect process, however the right steps were taken and ongoing efforts are in progress. Further support and reconstruction of trust are needed to remedy the long-term impact that it had caused. I urge the Canadian government to act on the recommendations outlined by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, together with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls to Action.
A Solemn Celebration of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
It is important to remember that this day isn’t about us. Think of this day in the way you think of Remembrance Day, and act accordingly. In the words of Chief Robert Joseph of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, “(this) will be the day when we can hold each other to account.” A fine sentiment, and one that I think we should hold on to. If we really want to repair the damage done by our colonial past, we should take today as a rallying point. Gather here, and prepare for future work.
That isn’t to say that you should spend the day in quiet isolation. Many festivities have been planned across Canada, meant to foster healing and community. I would encourage you to go. It is only through sharing and discussion that healing can commence.
Acknowledge the ownership of the land
I would like to close this article by acknowledging that the land we live on, now known as Ontario, Canada, is a part of the ancestral territories of the First Nations. These lands belong to the Anishinaabe, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, their original denizens and the ones who made their homes here. It is important that we acknowledge their ownership of these lands, and it is important that we as Canadians work towards a better, fairer future for those who were here first. Remembering always that we never own the land but rather, borrow its use for our children.
The Truth & Reconciliation Commission report:
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report: