This year is the first time that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will be celebrated as a federal statutory holiday, a day to recognize the colonial legacy of residential schools in Canada. The day is also meant to honour the survivors of that horror, and is considered vital to the ongoing reconciliation process. The day will not be a recognized holiday in Ontario, as in some other provinces, but the Ontario Ministry of Education is encouraging boards to organize age-appropriate activities to mark the day, according to a memo sent last week. Meanwhile, the Municipality of West Nipissing is closing its offices and facilities Sept. 30 and holding a ceremony at Minnehaha Bay Sept. 29 to raise the Every Child Matters flag while lighting the WN Power Generation dam in orange.
Gimaa (Chief) Scott McLeod of Nipissing First Nation feels the federal holiday is a move forward but also provides some cautions. “We’re moving in the right direction,” he says. “I think we have to be careful that this doesn’t slide by, or turn into just a day off for people. I’m hoping that it takes more of a shape of a Remembrance Day that has education, but also the sombre tone of the fact that actual people lost their lives. The potential is there to be something positive, but there is also the potential of it missing the mark.”
After a spring and summer of the general population being made excruciatingly aware of the thousands of young children who lost their lives while attending genocidal institutions whose intent was to “take the Indian out of the child”, how do we, as Canadians both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, make sure the days is appropriately highlighted? Gimaa McLeod offers some of his thoughts. “It’s incumbent on government to step up and use this day to educate. This kind of stuff, more often than not, always seems to fall upon the shoulders of the victims to do the education. The government has already stepped away from their responsibilities to do that over the last few decades, and now just to pass it on to Indigenous communities to [educate] is irresponsible.” He adds that there needs to be adequate funding for curriculum, and that the government that was responsible for funding the residential schools in the first place needs to step up and “Make sure this is taught and not overlooked. One of the things I struggle with is how people turn away from this type of information because the content is uncomfortable and it upsets their current privilege of how they see themselves and how they see their country, and it’s always at the cost of those who had the atrocities committed against them. Their ability to heal from that is essentially blocked by that unwillingness to talk about these things and acknowledge what actually happened.”