A day for national and individual reflection

In more ways than one, it is a day for reflection.

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Opinion

In more ways than one, it is a day for reflection.

Sept. 30 marks the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which is described by Canada’s federal government as “the day (that) honours the children who never returned home and survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities.”

The government website also notes: “Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

Such commemoration is augmented by the fact Sept. 30 is also recognized as Orange Shirt Day, a less formalized, Indigenous-led effort to raise awareness, with the orange shirt symbolizing the cultural identity, freedom and sense of self-worth that were stripped away from Indigenous children forced to endure residential school “education.”

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In addition to being the National Day for Truth and Reconcilliation, Sept. 30 is also recognized as Orange Shirt Day, a less formalized, Indigenous-led effort to raise awareness.

And so this is very much a moment to reflect, on the ongoing legacy and intergenerational impact of Canada’s residential school program, and on what needs to be done, by individuals and by society as a whole, to address ongoing denialism regarding residential schools’ impact and advance the necessary process of truth and reconciliation.

Also worthy of reflection are how this official day of commemoration came into being, as part of a national reckoning that followed the discovery last year, through the use of ground-penetrating radar, of presumed unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Similar searches, with similarly disturbing results, have been carried out at other sites across the country.

The story of Canada’s residential school system and the harms it caused is well known, but it apparently took last year’s startling revelations for the government to finally make good on Call to Action No. 80 in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which specifies a national holiday to “honour First Nations, Inuit and Métis Survivors and their families and communities and to ensure that public commemoration of their history and the legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Ground-penetrating radar has revealed presumed unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools across the country.

Why such a straightforward legislative measure was not introduced until after that figurative slap in the nation’s face is certainly worth pondering. As is the stark reality that to date, less than 20 of the TRC report’s 94 Calls to Action have been fulfilled.

Considerations of this day’s meaning are bound to include conversations about its status as an official “holiday,” and how it is recognized across the country. While it was brought into being last year by an act of Parliament, its place on the calendar does not necessarily mean the closure of businesses and a day away from work.

Manitoba’s provincial government recognizes and supports the day of commemoration, but discussions continue here regarding whether it should be made an official statutory holiday. And perhaps that’s for the better — a concerted effort to reinforce the meaning of the day through education and ceremonial recognition might better serve Orange Shirt Day’s aims than the simple creation of a paid day off that many folks might use to close up the cottage or bask obliviously in the autumn sunshine.

To date, less than 20 of the TRC report’s 94 Calls to Action have been fulfilled.

There are positive developments related to reconciliation upon which we can reflect: locally, significant progress on the Indigenous-led redevelopment of the former Kapyong Barracks and the announced plans by local First Nations to turn the Hudson Bay Company’s former downtown store into a massive mixed-use development are tangible examples of reconciliation in action.

There is, however, so much more to be done. Setting aside time, on a day such as this, to reflect on how each of us can best contribute to the process of reconciliation is time well spent.

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