OTTAWA — Ceremonies were held across Ottawa to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.
From Parliament Hill to elementary and secondary schools and university and college campuses, ceremonies and lesson plans were dedicated to honour the victims and survivors of Canada’s residential school program.
“This is a day that people should approach almost like Remembrance Day, keeping in mind that it was more likely a child would die in Residential Schools than a soldier would die in the Second World War,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
“So this day is to honour the survivors and the children who were lost.”
The federal government declared Sept. 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.
“This is an occasion to reflect on the many lives lost in the residential school system and honouring the First Nations, Metis and Inuit families of survivors and to reaffirm the city’s commitment towards reconciliation,” said Mayor Jim Watson in a statement Thursday morning, declaring Sept. 30, 2021 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Ottawa.
Ottawa is built on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation, said Watson, adding the capital is “home to a great diversity of urban First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.”
The Heritage Building and Marion Dewar Plaza at Ottawa City Hall and the OTTAWA sign in the ByWard Market will be illuminated in orange at sunset on Thursday.
On Parliament Hill, thousands of people gathered for “Remember Me: A National Day of Remembrance.” The Indigenous Arts Collective of Canada hosted the gathering to remember Indigenous children and families affected by residential schools.
The gathering on Parliament Hill was followed by a Spirit Walk to Confederation Park, where there was music, presentations, art installations and dance.
At the University of Ottawa, orange shirts saying “Every Child Matters” were placed on the lawn in front of Tabaret Hall.
“Orange Shirt Day is a day to recognize the lived history of generations of Indigenous children who were forcibly taken from their parents and sent to residential schools far from home, where they suffered deprivations, hardship and – too often – awful abuse,” said uOttawa President Jacques Fremont on Twitter.
The Ottawa Hospital held a ceremony to honour the land of the new Civic Campus.
“The Ottawa Hospital is committed to building meaningful partnerships with Indigenous communities, patients and their families,” said Cameron Love, President of the Ottawa Hospital.
“We are grateful for the honesty and the generosity these communities have granted us in sharing their stories and in helping us to learn. We are humbled in the trust you have placed in us, and we look forward to building a better future together.”
The event was called “Ni-Maajitaamin”, meaning, “Let’s get started.”
“Today we honour the long-standing relationship of the Algonquin people with this land. A future built on trust, mutual understanding and compassion,” said Love.
“A future that offers hope to Indigenous communities that their voices will be heard as we work side-by-side to create a better health care experience for the next seven generations.”
Member of the Ottawa Hospital Board of Governor’s Marion Crowe encouraged those in attendance to “dream with me.”
“We are about to embark on a future of health care that is going to serve the next seven generations and future generations. This is a once and a lifetime opportunity for us all,” said Crowe, the first Indigenous person appointed as a board member at the Ottawa Hospital.
“When I say dream with me, imagine a hospital where we’re not afraid to go receive care because of racism in the system.”
Crowe said the Ottawa Hospital would be a place where “you will see yourself getting treated.”
A sign to acknowledge that The Ottawa Hospital is on unceded and traditional Algonquin land has been erected on the new campus, on Carling Avenue across from Champagne Avenue. The sign features Algonquin Ancestral Medicinal Knowledge – Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter Series, original artwork by Algonquin artists Simon Brascoupé and Mairi Brascoupé, depicting traditional medicines through the seasons.
The Ottawa Carleton District School Board and Ottawa Catholic School Board both said students and staff will participate in learning opportunities to expand their knowledge of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit culture and history throughout the week.
“The board has planned learning and meaningful learning, I need to emphasize that, for all students and staff, so that’s Kindergarten right through to adults,” said Shannon Smith, head of the OCDSB’s Indigenous Education, Equity and Human Rights Division.
“The activities that will be taking place in classrooms will be those selected amongst a fairly comprehensive list that was curated by our fantastic Indigenous education team in collaboration with program and learning and various other departments.”
Smith told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa Now with Kristy Cameron on Wednesday there would not be “showy, performative” events in schools.
“This is to be a day where students and staff dig into the Calls to Action that they really begin to understand what those calls mean for us.”
Blackstock recommends all Ottawa residents take time today to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and the Calls to Action.
“What I’d like them to do is go on to the Internet and read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s executive summary, it’s not that long, and it will tell you the truths of the survivors, and then turn to the Calls to Action,” said Blackstock in an interview on CTV Morning Live Wednesday.
“There’s 94 different ways that each one of us can make a different. It doesn’t cost any money, and sometimes it’s just as simple as sending those Calls to Action to your elected officials and saying that this matters to you and you’ll be watching to make sure that they as a government meet their obligations and implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.”
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