Today, September 30, is Orange Shirt Day in Canada. (OK, it’s officially called National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.) This special day of learning and reflection about the enduring devastating impacts of the Residential Schools imposed upon Indigenous children (and their families) was first proclaimed in 2013, and I am cautiously optimistic that it really is making a difference. Oh, we have a long, long way to go, but awareness and understanding increases every year. And as it does, hopefully the Indigenous peoples in Canada are regaining their sense of identity, culture, dignity, and self-worth, of which they were purposefully stripped by the degrading treatment meted out in the Residential Schools.
I’ve written of in some detail of the shameful history of the Residential Schools – and the reason why it’s called Orange Shirt Day – in the last two years; if you don’t know the history you can bring yourself up to speed with either of these past posts:
Today is Orange Shirt Day in Canada. Why?
Orange Shirt Day has a new name
For me there are few things more important to the well-being of our country than to get this right. To right this historic wrong. And, in the midst of SO MANY upsetting events unfolding in the world – from cruel and unprovoked wars to questionable political decisions that impact millions of vulnerable people to ravaging hurricanes – I’d like to concentrate on some positives.
The positives that I see, hopefully not just through my rose-tinted glasses, are the wide variety of Orange Shirt Day activities being organized and well attended across the country. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation has not become yet meaningless symbolic gesture. Each year, there are a few more activities planned by an increasing number of community organizations. More and more people wear orange, and they know understand the significance. And in locations where First Nation communities are in close proximity to towns and cities, the Indigenous leaders and public leaders are working together so that Indigenous voices can be heard. Surely, this is how reconciliation starts and also how it grows. Listening, learning, and working together with mutual respect.
In my small city, we’ve had increasing numbers of events around Orange Shirt Day every year. In fact, Orange Shirt Day has almost turned into Orange Shirt Week. On Wednesday, Sept 28, a few hundred people gathered to walk across our Walking Bridge across the St. John River (the Wolastoq), calling it a “healing walk” in recognition of the children who suffered and died at the Residential Schools. This event was organized by the Wolastoqey Tribal Council, and local First Nations people were joined by local public officials and many school children and other members of the public from both sides of the river. The event, which included singing, dancing, and talks, was all about joining together in learning. In uniting.
In our city, aside from the Healing Walk across our Walking Bridge, orange crosswalks with white feather have been installed at selected crossings.
The Lieutenant Governor hosted a public gathering for Indigenous leaders and non-Indigenous allies to speak and discuss ways to move forward together. Our universities are holding commemoration ceremonies with talks from residential school survivors, open to the public. At least two local churches are holding special prayer services on Sept. 30. One of these services is called “Prayers for Truth and Reconciliation”. Orange banners honouring the missing children (Every Child Matters) adorn lamp standards. And similar events are being replicated in towns and cities across Canada, events to raise awareness and build bridges.
With my optimist’s hat on, I applaud the continuing and increasing recognition of Orange Shirt Day and the reasons we have it. I applaud the spotlight that is increasingly put not just on righting the wrongs that have been done, but also the spotlight that is put on Indigenous culture and what it can teach all of us, especially when it comes to respecting Mother Earth.
My hope is that activity and respect for Orange Shirt Day continues to blossom and expand. My hope is that in the process the Indigenous Peoples of Canada are able to fully embrace their languages, history, and culture. And that they can feel empowered to determine their own destiny. Hopefully, I will be welcome as an ally!
Mother Earth is wearing her Orange Shirt this week.
Bridge photos by Catherine Morrison/The Daily Gleaner