The inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation means many things to Indigenous peoples. It is a day of mourning but it’s also a day of cultural celebration.
“Many of our people remember who we are, where we came from, speak our languages, remember our traditions and our culture. Those were the things that the residential schools tried to take from us. So knowing that we still have those things is cause for celebration” says Jan Hill, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at Queen’s University.
Since 2013, Canadians have been wearing orange shirts on Sept. 30 as a symbolic gesture to promote awareness about the country’s residential school system.
Hill says the day holds so much meaning, both to Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous people.
“It’s much more than wearing a shirt, because that is kind of performative. I think it’s really good to take the time to learn, to reflect, to make a commitment to extending your own learning. And extending what you learned to your circle of influence,” Hill says.
Even through the Ford government chose not to mark the day as a statutory holiday in Ontario, some cities, like Kingston, decided to take matters into their own hands, declaring Sept. 30 a ‘civic’ holiday.
A sacred fire was held in Confederation Park, across from city hall in the morning. The ceremony wasn’t filmed out of respect for tradition, but Kingston’s mayor was there to respect the importance of truth and reconciliation in the city — one with deep ties to Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A MacDonald, one of the early architects of the residential school system.
Mayor Paterson acknowledged the work that has to be done.
“As a city, we made a very clear commitment that we’re going to talk about the good and the bad of Canadian history,” Paterson said.
“We’re a city steeped in Canadian history, and there’s good chapters and there are also very dark chapters.”
Hill says, “It’s a time to reflect, to learn, and to listen. To listen to Indigenous people, because Indigenous people have been telling all of these truths for many years. And it’s important because we’re never going to get to reconciliation without acknowledging and recognizing truth.”
Truths, she says, of tragedies forced upon Indigenous peoples throughout the country’s history — and truths that must be heard before Canada as a nation can move forward toward reconciliation, not just on one day, but every day.