National Day for Truth and Reconciliation highlights chance for new way forward

September 30 is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a new federal statutory holiday. It builds on the momentum of Orange Shirt day, which has been doing amazing work to raise awareness about residential schools and the stories from survivors about the atrocities of abuse they faced at these facilities.

The grim discovery at the Kamloops Residential School of 215 children in unmarked graves has recently catapulted awareness of this issue internationally.  

Although the abuses are horrific, let’s not forget that the very mission of these institutions was problematic. The removal of children from their families was designed to undermine the core building blocks of communities – our families. And the tearing apart of families has led to multi-generational impacts as a consequence, including cycles of addiction, abuse, neglect and continued removal of children.

This is also interwoven with grinding poverty. I cannot even fathom what it would be like to have my children forcibly removed from me and I am lucky to say that because of the mere fact that I am an Indigenous woman. And this isn’t just historical, because governments continue to remove children which continues to undermine Indigenous communities. We have to do things differently. 

Although these are hard truths for many, we must find ways to have dialogue and to foster understanding and find a way forward. I am heartened to see how many individuals want a new way forward, but first, Canadians must listen and learn. Many say there can be no reconciliation without truth and I think we have begun this stage. And while some of us are angry and disillusioned about how long it has taken for people to listen to our truth, I am hopeful that we have started and believe we can’t turn back. I have never seen the current level of public interest in Indigenous issues in my entire career. 

So, as we embark on this inaugural holiday, I encourage you to take the opportunity to take action. You have many options. Read a book or article, watch a film or listen to a podcast.  Look for online events. Support an Indigenous business. Register for a free course. Remind your MP or MLA that Indigenous reconciliation needs continued government action.

But whatever you do, should you be lucky enough to have this as a holiday, don’t just think of this as another day off. Use it wisely and think of a future Canada that we all can be proud of. 

Kim Baird is the chancellor for Kwantlen Polytechnic University and is a consultant with Indigenous matters expertise. She is also the former chief of Tsawwassen First Nation.