Ways to participate in the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

(Credit, images: iStock/Getty Images; art: CBC life)

This Thursday, Sept. 30, marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — a day which has also been commemorated as Orange Shirt Day since 2013. The new federal statutory holiday honours the survivors of residential schools and their families and communities. Action 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action called for this day to “ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”  

In a CBC News article, Lenard Monkman interviews three First Nations women who urged Canadians to reflect on their history and participate in events on Sept. 30. “People have to respect that it is a difficult day for a lot of people that brings up a lot of things,” said Emily Riddle, senior advisor of Indigenous relations at Edmonton Public Library.

While this isn’t a complete list, here are some ways Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can participate in the day — things you can watch, listen to, read and do, as well as where you can donate to support those affected by residential schools.

To watch and listen to

There will be a range of programming available on CBC TV, Gem, CBC Radio and the Listen app. A broadcast special, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, airs at 8 p.m. local time (9 p.m. AT, 9:30 p.m. NT), followed by a new original documentary from CBC Manitoba, We Know the Truth: Stories to Inspire Reconciliation.

CBC Arts has created a list of more of CBC’s content for the day, which you can see here.

The APTN Lumi app — which features a large selection of Indigenous films, TV shows and documentaries in more than 20 Indigenous languages, as well as English and French — has curated a collection centred around the day. 

The National Film Board of Canada has a selection of short and feature films about the impact of residential schools in this country, and most are free to watch.

To read

Histories of survivors and their families

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), created to “preserve the memory and legacy of Canada’s residential school system,” houses the histories of survivors and their families. If you’re a survivor, you can request your school records and statement to the TRC; intergenerational survivors can request those of a family member. The centre calls these archives “a sacred bundle” that it will protect and preserve forever.

Books by Indigenous authors about residential schools

Earlier this year, Cree author David A. Robertson created a list of 48 books by Indigenous writers you can read to better understand residential schools. “It can no longer be disputed that the residential school system was genocide. And the question now is: what are you going to do about it?” he wrote. “I think the answer starts with stories. Stories have been, and always will be, the best way to educate ourselves about the truth.”

The TRC’s 94 Calls to Action

In June 2015, after hearing the stories of thousands of residential school survivors, the TRC released its final report with 94 Calls to Action, including establishing a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. You can read all 94 Calls to Action, and a summary of the state of progress of each action to date, in this CBC News interactive called Beyond 94.

To do

Take part in online events for Truth and Reconciliation Week 

Truth and Reconciliation Week, hosted by the NCTR, is a five-day event taking place Sept. 27-Oct. 1, with online programming for students in grades 5 to 12, as well as the general public. The schedule will include conversations, workshops, performances and more, around everything from language and culture to treaties and land claims. You can find the schedule for the general public here, and for educators, here.

Drum for the children

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is inviting people around the world to gather and sing at 2:15 p.m. PT for the missing children of residential schools as “a way for people to connect, support and ground into the importance” of Sept. 30, 2021. 

The nation is encouraging people to learn the Secwépemc Honour Song in order to drum and sing in unity; you can find the words here. “It’s time to drum for the healing of the Indian residential schools survivors who carried the burden of knowing where the children were buried, and to drum for the healing of the families and communities whose children did not come home,” Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Kukpi7 (Chief) Rosanne Casimir said in a media release. 

You can find more info on their site here.

Buy and wear an orange shirt

The Orange Shirt Society encourages people to wear orange on Sept. 30, the day observed as Orange Shirt Day, to both honour and raise awareness about the tragic history of residential schools. The day is inspired by the experience of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation elder in Williams Lake, B.C., whose orange shirt, given to her by her grandmother, was taken away from her on her first day at a residential school, when she was six. 

The official 2021 Orange Shirt Day T-shirt was designed by Shayne Hommy, a Grade 11 Cree student in Dawson Creek, B.C., and can be purchased at these retailers. The Orange Shirt Society also encourages people to create their own shirt featuring a design “that means something to you or to your Nation,” but to please use their slogan, “Every Child Matters,” if doing so. Orange shirts can also be purchased from local Indigenous designers and the NCTR’s online store

Attend local events

Seek out local events that you can attend (in person or virtually) on the day, such as the CIFRS Truth and Reconciliation Indigenous Art Exhibit at Southcentre Mall in Calgary or the Every Child Matters concert at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.

Sign up for the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada course

For ongoing education about Indigenous histories, sign up for the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada course, which the faculty of Native studies describes as a “Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) that explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada.” It’s taught by Assistant Prof. Paul Gareau, and registration is now open. You can sign up for free to audit the course, or if you’d like to receive a certificate of completion, you can contribute a small fee. Click here to learn more and/or enrol. 

To donate to 

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some organizations that aim to raise awareness about the impact of residential schools, or provide support for survivors, their families and communities.

Indian Residential School Survivors Society

Na-mi-quai-ni-mak Community Support Fund

Legacy of Hope Foundation

Orange Shirt Society

Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund 

Native Women’s Association of Canada

Support is available for anyone affected by residential schools, including those who have been triggered by recent reports.

The Hope for Wellness Helpline is a 24-hour phone and online mental health counselling service for Indigenous people, with support available in Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut upon request.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-721-0066.

The 24-hour national Indian Residential School Crisis Line also provides support for survivors. Individuals can be referred to crisis services and access emotional support by calling 1-866-925-4419.

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