On September 30, people in so-called Canada will be commemorating the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Also known as Orange Shirt Day, the day is an opportunity to reflect upon the atrocities of the residential school system, honour the survivors of the residential school system, and remember the thousands of children who never made it home.

BWSS encourages our colleagues and the wider community to spend time on September 30th reflecting on the genocidal history of the residential school system in Canada and its ongoing impacts on Indigenous families, communities, and Nations. We encourage non-Indigenous peoples to remember that residential schools are not an example of “Indigenous history,” but rather, are a key aspect of the history of settler-colonialism in Canada, carried out by churches and the federal government.

Honouring Survivors Experiences

We honour the truths that residential school survivors emotionally and painfully have shared:

BWSS Staff Reflect on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

As part of its commemoration of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, BWSS staff members were asked to reflect on the question: “What does September 30th mean to you?”

Kirstin, BWSS Research and Policy Analyst and Indigenous Women’s Program team member, offers her insight into what September 30th means to her: “As an Indigenous woman, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is about remembering the Indigenous children, babies, and parents whose lives were forever changed by the heartless policies of the Canadian state. I think of my aunties, uncles, and grandparents who were forced to attend residential schools, sometimes being sent hundreds of kilometers away from home. For me, I see the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as an opportunity for non-Indigenous peoples in Canada to think about and hold space in their hearts for Indigenous children who were taken from their families. I encourage non-Indigenous peoples to consider what the long-term effects of these destructive policies might be on Indigenous families and society more broadly. I also choose to commemorate this day by remembering the Indigenous children who were taken away from their families and placed with non-Indigenous families as part of the Sixties Scoop- my own mother, aunts, and uncles amongst them. On September 30th, I recognize and respect all of our journeys towards healing as Indigenous peoples.”

Claudia, Program Manager of the Advancing Women’s Awareness Regarding Employment (AWARE) program sees September 30th as “a day to reflect on colonization, and the impacts it has had, and is still having”. She also intends to take time on September 30th to “reflect on the actions that I am taking in my life to learn on decolonizing practices and what is being done as a society and in the world about this.”

Harsha, Manager of Research and Policy at BWSS, also shared her thoughts on the significance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: “I think of September 30th as a day when we, as settlers on these lands, honour residential school survivors and take responsibility to dismantle the genocidal practices and policies of Canada. Residential schools are not a relic of the past. The unimaginable intergenerational violence of residential schools still reverberates, and is compounded by the trauma of child apprehensions and MMIWG2S+ and incarceration of Indigenous peoples still happening today. As a parent with a young child, I think of Indigenous families torn apart and the children who never made it home, and all the work to be done in order for every child to truly matter – where every Indigenous child is able to be on their lands, is safe in their bodies, is freely practicing their languages and cultures with their families and nations, and has access to water and education and health and housing. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a day for concrete solidarity, for example by participating in One Day’s Pay, a grassroots, Indigenous-guided campaign to mobilize settlers to meaningfully support Indigenous projects and organizations through financial contributions. It is also a reminder that this responsibility and commitment to act must be upheld every single day.”

Melody, BWSS Research and Policy Analyst, reminds us that the “National Day of Truth and Reconciliation demands a commitment to work that is ongoing, uneasy and complicated.” She continues by reflecting on her relationship to Indigenous lands and her hopes for the future: “For myself, this work involves confrontation with my own positionality as a diasporic settler – a descendant of migratory peoples who however uncomfortably, unwillingly, or precariously, have benefitted from the settler-colonial state of Canada, and who now occupy unceded, unsurrendered Indigenous lands. I hope this day moves us towards substantial and structural change. I hope, as diasporic settlers, we can reject colonial politics of recognition, and instead be inspired towards further learning, further radicalization, and further rage at the historic and ongoing harms committed by the settler-colonial state of Canada.”

Leanne, BWSS’s Housing Advocate comments “As a white woman, settler, and part of the privileged colonizer class, I need to reconcile what it is to live, work and play in ’Canada.’ It’s a day to learn and listen. Acknowledge people’s stories of suffering. It’s a day to recognize the abhorrent and unconscionable acts of state and church, of ‘Canada’. There is over a century of torture toward children, including sexual predation, by authorities. And it’s present in our society today. It is not reconciling our ‘past;’ it is also our present. Taking children away from their parents, splitting up families, not supporting them. It’s a sickening heartache that’s deep and wide, and it stretches across this nation. I use this day to learn and grow in my recognition of the pain and hurt intentionally caused by the institutions called Indigenous Residential Schools. To listen and honour survivors’ stories, as difficult as it may be to survive and share their story, is my way to acknowledge the truth of what Canada is today and has been, and I must reconcile my piece in it. Maybe I could have stopped at truth? I am seeking the truth, the whole of it. I will recognize and honour the grief of survivors and the ones who did not survive. I will try to be civil, although I am mad and sad, grieving and raging. I feel I have been blind and blinded by my government, society. Canadians need more Canada – truth about Canada.”

BWSS Education and Training Program Coordinator Munnie describes what The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation means for her: “The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation means a day to be thoughtful, be angry, be sad—all of that.  I want to remember those little faces, what they went through and how their families were impacted.  We all need to sit with that.  And I cannot forget how resilient Indigenous peoples are.”

BWSS Executive Director, Angela Marie MacDougall, offers her thoughts on our commitment to the important work of addressing colonial oppression: “At BWSS, we work from a decolonial and intersectional feminist analysis. We deeply understand the long-lasting impacts of colonization and the systemic subjugation that targets Indigenous Peoples and Nations. Gender-based violence on these lands is rooted in the foundational violence of settler-colonialism, which especially targeted and still targets Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people. We continue to work to address the historic and current systems of oppression impacting Indigenous Peoples and are determined to advocate for systemic and decolonial change through all our work.”

Beyond Reconciliation

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation has been a long time coming and only came to be through the decades of hard work and dedicated activism of Indigenous people across the country. At this time, British Columbia has not yet made September 30th a statutory holiday, although BWSS is hopeful that this will change in the future.

We know that colonialism is not a historical event, but rather a contemporary structure that continues to frame the lives of Indigenous peoples. As such, the task of repairing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is just getting started. We hope that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is the impetus for this longer-term process of collective self-reflection about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.

BWSS encourages people to attend one of the many local commemorative events in communities throughout BC or to commemorate the day in a way that is meaningful to them.