You may not have to work or go to school this Thursday, but a Winnipeg Indigenous activist and organizer says he doesn’t want to see the new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation be treated as just another “day off.”
Michael Redhead Champagne told 680 CJOB that’s he’s nervous many Canadians who aren’t personally affected by the residential school system will see it as just another holiday and nothing more — when there’s still so much work to do toward reconciliation.
“One of the ways we can look at this … is not as a day off, but looking at it as national truth and reconciliation day of action,” Champagne said.
“There are 94 calls to action that exist out there, and I’m a little bit sad sometimes when I talk to non-Indigenous people, because very few have actually read all 94 calls to action.
“So what I’d love to see is non-Indigenous people on Sept. 30 taking the lead about educating themselves on these calls to action, or even better, moving — in some kind of a system way — forward with some of these calls to action.”
While he said there’s a sense of relief among Indigenous people that the day is being federally acknowledged, and the government is taking some degree of action on this issue, there’s still the potential that something could be lost by giving students — in particular — a day off school.
The federal government implemented Sept. 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a statutory holiday for all federal employees and federally regulated workplaces. It’s a direct response to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
The event’s predecessor — Orange Shirt Day — had a strong focus on teaching kids about residential schools, he said.
“One of the things I always thought was so special about Orange Shirt Day in the past is that schools would often see that day as a moment of education,” Champagne said.
“They would show videos to students, they would talk about the origins of Orange Shirt Day.
“I just see school assemblies — many students being gathered in one space — as a prime opportunity for us to share some of those experiences that Indian residential school survivors have had, and it’s a great opportunity for education, it’s a great opportunity for shared action.
“I’m nervous now that folks aren’t going to be in schools, it’s going to be treated as another day off.”
Champagne said he’d like to see people educate themselves on the calls to action, and try to find ways — as individuals, as communities, as schools — they can make a tangible difference. It’s something, he said, that extends to the workplace as well.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action #92 talks about the importance of the private sector employing Indigenous young people,” he said.
“Employment — that’s one way that we can take action. How does your workplace employ Indigenous folks? Are you having these conversations in your workplace? Especially if your workplace has some type of a system connection to Indigenous Peoples or the lingering effects of residential schools.”
In an interview with Global News, residential school survivor Geraldine (Gramma) Shingoose said 2021 is a “year of truth” for survivors.
She says it’s important for non-Indigenous people to listen to survivors’ stories about their experiences.
“I ask Canada to see us, to hear us and to believe us,” she said, echoing the sentiments of Murray Sinclair, who served as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Shingoose suggested Canadians take a moment of silence at 2:15 p.m. – referring to the number of unmarked graves found at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., earlier this year.
Small gestures — such as displaying an orange shirt in your window — can have a powerful impact on survivors, she said.
The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.