Like Phyllis Webstad of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, I had just turned six when I started school. I assume I was excited, probably a little nervous, but I don’t remember. Phyllis does.
She remembers showing up at her school, excited to be there, proud to be wearing the new orange shirt her grandmother had bought her. She remembers standing there with her classmates, all of them scared and crying as their clothes were stripped off them. She remembers never seeing her treasured orange shirt again.
In 2013, Phyllis’s experience inspired the inception of Orange Shirt Day. A day to recognize and raise awareness of the horrific history and legacy of the Residential School System.
This past Thursday, on September 30, Canada marked the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. A day to remember the children lost, the families shattered. To reflect on the injustice that exists to this day. To find a way forward—together.
A way that includes sending people like Blake Desjarlais to Ottawa. Blake is Metís, speaks fluent Cree, and is the first two-spirit member of parliament.
A way that appreciates the talent of actors like Kiawenti:io Tarbell. An up-and-coming star at only 15, Kiawenti:io is Mohawk from the Akwesasne community in Ontario.
A way that applauds the magic in the voices of singers like Mary Nahwegahbow. An athlete and musician, Mary hails from the Whitefish River Nation 500 kilometres North of Toronto.
A way through the heartbreak of the past into a brighter future.
Statues of the men who brought us the national shame that was the residential school system are being defaced, toppled, and removed.
An emotional catharsis generations in the making, symbolism that echoes in our hearts, but we need more than symbols. More than apologies.
It comes as no great surprise that back in the 1870s, when the residential school system was instituted, it was depressingly common to think that anyone who didn’t look, speak, or pray like you didn’t deserve to be treated as human.
The question that haunts me though, the truth that makes me cringe, is how did we allow this persecution of children, this destruction of family and culture to continue for so long?
I love it here in Canada, wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
Yes, the winter is crap unless you’re one of those coordinated types who like to slalom down mountains or fly over the ice, but hey — central heating 🙂
I like that we’ve had same-sex marriage for 13 years, medically assisted dying (euthanasia) since 2016, and have now legalized recreational marijuana.
I’m incredibly grateful that I live here — but then, I’m not one of the First Peoples.
We have consistently and systematically mistreated and abused the First Peoples of this country for most of our 151 year history.
Out of all the wrong we have done, to my mind, the worst has been stealing their children and forcing them into Residential Schools. We forced these children to abandon their culture and heritage, forbade them to speak their own language or practice their own religion, abused them physically and sexually. We did this for more than a hundred years.
But we know better now, right? We don’t still believe one race, or religion, or culture is magically right and all the others are wrong.
We do know better, but racism is alive and well in this country for many minorities and for First Peoples especially. Ask Katrina Anderson of St. Albert, Alberta, Canada. Her daughter, Candace came home from school and found a letter in their condo mailbox telling her family to go back to the reservation where they belong.
None so deaf as those who will not hear. None so blind as those who will not see.