September 30: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

September 30 , 2021 marked the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and GSA staff took the opportunity to continue learning about the atrocities enacted by the Canadian state and perpetrated by Canadian society towards Indigenous peoples and communities that continue happening today. We (re)read, reflected and discussed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)’s reports and Calls to Action, learned about residential schools in the areas where we live and grew up, attended local events, and donated portions of pay to Indigenous-led organizations.

This year, we are building on this work by pressing municipal governments to take action on the TRC’s Call to Action No. 43 to “fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework for reconciliation.” We believe it is our responsibility to help move this action forward: Our work to help protect the species, ecosystems, and communities of the Salish Sea region cannot be fully accomplished until governments at all levels meaningfully mend relations and restore justice for the historical and ongoing dispossession of Indigenous Peoples.

It’s also important to mark this day to celebrate Indigenous nations’ continued work to recover and reclaim their cultures, languages, and territories, as colonization has negatively impacted them, to the point of threatening their continued existence. This is why we are committed to do everything we can, and we encourage you to have another look at the Calls to Action, and find the ones where you can raise your voice, help move it forward, or exert your power.

On September 30th, and in the days leading up to it, we will also be attending events in person and online, to show our support and continue learning. We are sharing below a list of events and resources in the hope that you can find something interesting or close to where you are, and mark the day as best as you can.

What can you do on September 30?

  1. Find and attend local events! See our list below for some ideas, but reaching out to your local community spaces may also help you find out what other activities are happening.
  2. Email, call or write your local policy maker, telling them you want immediate action to fully implement the 94 calls to action in the TRC report to truly advance reconciliation.
  3. Follow and support (financially if you have the means or in any way you can) Indigenous-led organizations, businesses, and folks working on the ground. A few organizations and initiatives that may be of interest include Indigenous Climate Action, Yellowhead Institute, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, the Tiny House Warriors, and the Gitimd’en Checkpoint Camp. We’d love to hear about others that resonate with you.

Events and activities you can attend or support on September 30:

Additional resources

If you are seeking concrete actions to take, the educational resources below may be helpful:

  • UNDRIP & the Environmental Movement, a blog post we created to explain the importance of this framework to our work
  • Truth and Reconciliation Week 2022 – A free national program open to all schools across Canada, with content for Grades 1 – 12
  • Orange Shirt Day’s resources – Lots of information to assist with understanding & planning Orange Shirt Day
  • Resources for Settlers (W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council) – Offers guidance on allyship with W̱SÁNEĆ people in particular, but can be helpful in general as well
  • Learning Modules (Nahanee Creative) – A Squamish-owned social change agency that offers decolonial consulting, communication and design
  • University of Alberta Indigenous Canada course – A free online course that covers a wide range of topics, helping participants better understand the history and current context of Indigenous Peoples in so-called Canada
  • CBC’s Beyond 94 – A website that monitors progress on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action
  • Reconciliation Thunder’s 94in94 campaign – A website that breaks down the TRC’s Calls to Action and offers materials to share online
  • In Vancouver, Simon Fraser University is hosting a series of events, which you can find here

Background: September 30, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

The creation of today as a federal statutory day fulfills call to action #80 from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) “to honour survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

This new ‘holiday’ comes after years of work by Indigenous Peoples to commemorate Orange Shirt Day on September 30, as a result of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion, which took place in Williams Lake, B.C. in 2013. This project originated with the wishes of Esketemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, a survivor, to bring together former students and their families from the Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in, Southern Dakelh and St’at’imc Nations.

The recent uncovering of unmarked graves at the nearby Kamloops Indian Residential School (located on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation territory) and other locations across the country, including ongoing investigations on Vancouver Island (at the Nanaimo “Indian Hospital”, located in Snuneymuxw First Nation territory), in Alert Bay (at the St. Michael’s Indian Residential School, located on ‘Namgis First Nation territory), and in North Vancouver (at the St. Paul’s Indian Residential School, located on Squamish Nation territory), makes it painfully clear today that these efforts should have been listened to and supported many years ago.

Not all of Canada stands united in marking this day. In fact, only three provinces (M.B., P.E.I., N.S.) are formally recognizing it as a provincial holiday, while B.C. has decided to mark it as a day of commemoration. This reveals how challenging it has been for Indigenous Peoples to achieve a day unanimously supported to mark the harsh reality they have had to endure in this country, and how complex it is to establish September 30 as a ‘holiday’ despite it being a recommendation since 2015 in the TRC.

Many First Nations have reacted to this holiday with hope, caution and criticism as this is certainly not a day for joyful celebration. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, for example, has stated; “For the first time, Canadians will take this day to commemorate the legacy of residential schools” and “we will check on our survivors and their family members, listen to and share our truths, and continue to bring awareness to our struggles and our strengths, as we move forward in healing.”

Support services

Recognizing the intense emotion and harm that today can bring forth, below is a list of support services for those people impacted by residential schools and their legacy:

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