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Truth and Reconciliation

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Land Acknowledgement

The Mothers Matter Centre would like to acknowledge we are located on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, as well as many others whose cultures and histories continue to foster vibrant communities. We make this land acknowledgement in order to honor the ways of knowing of the first peoples’ of this land that have preceded us, advance truth and reconciliation in our work and reflect on how far we still have to go.

Between 1831 until the last residential school closed in 1996, only 27 years ago, residential schools were a school system run by churches and sponsored by the federal government. [1] These schools were established with the explicit aim of forced assimilation Indigenous children into the settler way of life while systematically eradicating Indigenous identity, languages, culture, and communities. Tragically, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend 139 residential schools across the country, and though there is no exact figure, it is estimated that over 6,000 children lost their lives while in their care. [2]

In 2007, a significant step toward acknowledging and addressing this dark chapter in Canadian history occurred with the initiation of the settlement process for the Indian Residential Schools Agreement. The historic agreement, the largest class action settlement in Canadian history, aimed to bring some measure of justice and healing to survivors. As part of this process, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established. Their primary mandate

was to meticulously document the history of the residential school system, chronicle the experiences of survivors, and assess the enduring impact of these schools on Indigenous culture and families.

The resulting report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a solemn testament to the profound suffering inflicted on Indigenous peoples and serves as a call to action for the nation. Within this report are 94 Calls to Action, which provide a roadmap for addressing the legacy of residential schools and moving towards reconciliation. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, observed on September 30th, is a direct response to Call to Action 80, symbolizing our collective commitment to acknowledging the truth, fostering understanding, and striving for reconciliation in Canada.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation & Orange Shirt Day

Truth and Reconciliation Day was colloquially known as Orange Shirt Day, which paid homage to the resilience of children who survived residential schools while also remembering those who did not. It deeply focuses on the personal story of Phyllis Webstad, a member of the Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) and part of the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation. On her first day of school, she excitedly wore a brand-new orange shirt, only to have it forcibly taken from her. Today, the orange shirt has become a poignant symbol representing the cultural, personal, and identity losses endured by Indigenous children throughout generations.

 

Orange Shirt Day achieved official status on September 30, 2021, marking the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This federal statutory holiday was created through Bill C-5, An act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation), which received Royal Assent on June 3, 2021. The symbolism of the orange shirt reflecting the assimilation originates from Phyllis Jack Webstad’s story, where at residential school her brand new orange shirt was taken and never returned. Orange Shirt Day honours the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families, and their communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process. September 30th was selected for the date of national observance as a symbolic representation of when Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their homes to be enrolled in residential schools. This day is an integral part of the reconciliation process, shedding light on a dark chapter in Canadian history and fostering understanding and reflection on Canadians. 

Effects on families

Survivors have detailed the abuse, malnutrition, poor living conditions, and disease that occurred at these schools. The enduring effects the forced displacement have had like intergenerational trauma, health issues, substance abuse, mortality rates and the disruption of families and communities are apparent in all dimensions of Indigenous peoples’ health today. [3] The community wide intergenerational legacy of residential schools continues to undermine the wellbeing of contemporary Indigenous families and communities. A familial history of attendance is associated with higher rates of psychological distress, lower income and educational attainment, and lower self-rated mental and physical health scores. In a public opinion poll conducted by the National Aboriginal Health Organisation, over two thirds of First Nations respondents cited the residential school system as a contributor to the current health and social issue that they face.[4]

References

  1. https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/cfe29bee35c54a70b9621349f19a3db2 

  2. https://www.anishinabek.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/An-Overview-of-the-IRS-System-Booklet.pdf 

  3. Wilk, P., Maltby, A., & Cooke, M. (2017). Residential schools and the effects on Indigenous health and well-being in Canada-a scoping review. Public health reviews, 38, 8. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40985-017-0055-6

  4. What First Nations People Think About Their Health and Health Care: National Aboriginal Health Organization’s Public Opinion Poll on Aboriginal Health and Health Care in Canada. Ottawa, Ontario: First Nations Centre; 2003.

Historical context of residential schools

The Mothers Matter Centre’s Commitment to Truth and Reconciliation

Today, on Truth and Reconciliation Day, the Mothers Matter Centre joins in solemn remembrance and reflection. This day holds immense significance as we acknowledge the painful truths of the past and the ongoing journey towards healing and reconciliation. We stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities, recognizing the importance of honoring their voices, stories, and wisdom. We must listen, learn, and take meaningful action. Let us engage in difficult conversations, educate ourselves on Indigenous histories, cultures, and experiences, and advocate for systemic change. By fostering understanding, respect, and empathy, we contribute to the healing process. 

 

Though we stand in reflection today, reconciliation does not end here. Mothers Matter Centre is committed to the action, understanding, respect and empathy needed to facilitate building a more just and equitable society.

Resources

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National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

The Mothers Matter Centre is committed to supporting Indigenous families, empowering mothers, and working towards reconciliation.

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