The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is on September 30th. It’s a day for people to remember the horrors of Canada’s past residential schools.
A new annual holiday as of 2021, the day is an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on historic racism and the consequences of generations of Indigenous children being taken from their families.
(Note: The above photo is of the impromptu memorial honouring First Nations children who died at Canadian residential schools between the 1800’s and 1990’s. It emerged on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery in the spring of 2021 after the discovery of mass graves at a residential school in Kamloops, BC.)
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Originally introduced in Parliament in September of 2020, Bill C-5 was signed into law in the summer of 2021. The law gives Canada a new statutory holiday. September 30th is now officially National Day for Truth and Reconciliation across the country.
Since 2013, September 30th has been known as Orange Shirt Day. Residential school survivor and BC resident Phyllis Webstad was the inspiration for the movement after she shared a story of her initiation at residential school. A new orange shirt she’d received from her family (along with the rest of her clothes) was taken from her.
Orange Shirt Day grew in popularity in the following years and became a coast-to-coast day of recognition. This prompted the proposal of a federal bill in 2018 that would make the day a statutory holiday. However, it didn’t make it through Parliament before the 2019 election was called.
A new bill was proposed in the fall of 2020, and it slowly made its way through Parliament. After the discovery of the graves of hundreds of children at the site of a former Kamloops residential school in May of 2021, the House of Commons decided to push through the bill much quicker than it might otherwise have taken.
This meant that the bill received approval from the House and Senate on June 3rd, 2021. September 30th, 2021, is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
What Does this Holiday Mean?
This holiday recognizes the awful history of the Canadian residential school system, described as “cultural genocide” by the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The recognition of this day as a statutory holiday is meant to further stimulate reflection and community engagement. It’s also meant to honour those who had to endure the system and those who continue to feel its effects today.
The month chosen for the holiday is September as it’s the month children return to school. For indigenous communities, this meant the time their children returned to the residential schools.
Schools and federal workplaces are closed on this day. Other businesses are not legally required to give the day off, but they are strongly encouraged to do so.
To learn about Canada’s past regarding its Indigenous people, read the Truth and Reconciliation Report and its recommendations. See the TRC.ca website for details.
Truth and Reconciliation Day in BC
The kind of ceremonies taking place on September 30th depend on the province. There is no set standard, although orange shirts will likely remain a powerful symbol.
As of early August, 2021, BC has not yet announced how exactly the holiday will be recognized. The province, in their official statement on the holiday on August 3rd, said that they will collaborate with various Indigenous leaders and organizations to determine the best ways to commemorate September 30th.
This a time to learn from our province’s history and hopefully take steps to improve our current society. So far, the following events are scheduled to take place on or close to September 30th.
- Intergenerational March for Orange Shirt Day – various UBC departments are holding a march on campus on September 30th at 12 pm, with informational stops and volunteer speakers.
- Dispelling Myths and Stereotypes Workshop – in partnership with the Indigenous Perspectives Society, the BC Non-Profit Housing Association is hosting an educational webinar from 1 to 4 pm on September 29th.
For more information visit the BC Government website.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- First Nations in the Lower Mainland
- National Indigenous Peoples Day
- Vancouver History and Culture
- Vancouver’s September Calendar