With Canada set to mark its second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Friday, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation (MSIFN) has released a statement on the spirit of the solemn new day of remembrance.
The holiday was fast-tracked in parliament last year after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves of children killed in Canada’s residential school system. This system saw children across the country ripped from their homes and families to be put to and forced into schools.
Often these children were exploited for agricultural labour rather than educated, fed barely edible food and housed in deplorable conditions. Many sent to the schools suffered horrific physical, mental and sexual abuse. Disease often ran rampant through the schools.
The children were denied the use of their first languages and cultural traditions. These assimilation efforts are now seen as cultural genocide.
The Canadian Government primarily in collaboration with Catholic and Anglican churches operated 134 such schools between 1831 and 1996. In that time more than 150,000 children were forced to attend.
One such child was Phyllis Jack Webstad, six years old on her arrival to Saint Joseph’s Mission near William’s Lake BC. On arrival, she was stripped of her clothes including a new orange shirt. When she shared this story years later the orange shirt became a symbol of the residential school system stripping away Indigenous culture.
Following Webstad’s story, September 30 became an informal Orange Shirt Day, an effort to reflect on the horrors visited by the Government on Indigenous children and their cultures.
The discovery of 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops, BC in May 2021 lit a fire under the Federal Government to formally recognize the day as a federal holiday. Five more grave sites were discovered throughout 2021 and eight have been found so far in 2022. All told 2,301 suspected unmarked graves have been discovered since 1974.
In advance of the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the Mississaugas of Scugog Island spoke to the crisis of conscious these discoveries have caused the Canadian People.
“What happened in the Residential School System is a very horrific truth and it is natural that people prefer to avoid the discomfort of talking and learning about the atrocities that happened,” they begin.
“Many of you, particularly non-Indigenous persons, may experience a mixture of negative emotions when thinking about the inhumane cruelties that Indigenous people. Emotions like guilt, shame or anger. Some may even question how they feel about being Canadian in general.”
However, the MSIFN stressed reconciliation is meant to be a healing, helpful process, as difficult as it is. “The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is not meant to shame Canadians or make them feel awful. It’s about recognizing the nuances of history. It’s about learning what happened to ensure we can collectively shape a better future for everyone.”
They continued that it’s not about apologizing for the past, nor about “nice sounding public statements or supportive yard signs.” (Though they note those are appreciated.) “It’s about Canadians (Indigenous AND non-Indigenous) accepting that Residential Schools, however dark a chapter it undoubtedly was, are part of what Canada is today and that it’s still possible to be good people that make up a good country.”
“There is no reconciliation without truth and that’s the burden of all Canadians,” the Mississaugas of Scugog concluded, “but with burden comes responsibility and opportunity to do better.”
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