For Indigenous peoples, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation represents a lot of things. It is a day of remembrance as well as cultural celebration.
“Many of our people are aware of who we are, where we originated from, speak our languages, and are aware of our customs and culture. The residential schools attempted to take such things away from us. So knowing that we still have those things is a cause for celebration,” says Jan Hill, Queen’s University’s Director of Indigenous Initiatives.
Since 2013, Canadians have been wearing orange shirts on Sept. 30 as a symbolic gesture to promote awareness about the country’s residential school system.
Hill says the day holds so much meaning, both to Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous people.
“It’s much more than wearing a shirt, because that is kind of performative. I think it’s really good to take the time to learn, to reflect, to make a commitment to extending your own learning. And extending what you learned to your circle of influence,” Hill says.
Even through the Ford government chose not to mark the day as a statutory holiday in Ontario, some cities, like Kingston, decided to take matters into their own hands, declaring Sept. 30 a ‘civic’ holiday.
A sacred fire was held in Confederation Park, across from city hall in the morning. The ceremony wasn’t filmed out of respect for tradition, but Kingston’s mayor was there to respect the importance of truth and reconciliation in the city — one with deep ties to Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A MacDonald, one of the early architects of the residential school system.
Mayor Paterson acknowledged the work that has to be done.
“As a city, we made a very clear commitment that we’re going to talk about the good and the bad of Canadian history,” Paterson said.
“We’re a city steeped in Canadian history, and there are excellent chapters and some tragic chapters,” she says.
“It’s a moment to reflect, learn, and listen,” Hill says. To pay attention to Indigenous peoples, who have been telling all of these realities for many years. And it’s crucial because we’ll never be able to reconcile without first accepting and recognizing the truth.”
Truths about catastrophes that Indigenous peoples have faced throughout Canada’s history, she claims, and truths that must be heard before Canada as a nation can move forward toward reconciliation, not just on one day, but every day.