How Canadians can contribute to reconciliation

(Shutterstock image)

Thursday marks the first-ever National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada as a day to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools in the country.

But what can Canadians do to contribute to reconciliation on this day and moving forward in the future?

To acknowledge and commemorate the day, the government of Canada is suggesting people wear an orange shirt, as Orange Shirt Day also takes place on Sept. 30.

"Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day that honours the children who survived Indian Residential Schools and remembers those who did not," the government said on its website.

"We encourage all Canadians to wear orange to raise awareness of the very tragic legacy of residential school, and to honour the thousands of Survivors."

Ruth Murdock is a residential school survivor and attended Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School, near Shoal Lake, Ont. between 1957 and 1962 from the ages of five to 10.

She said having a national day for Truth and Reconciliation is a small step in the right direction, but more still needs to be done.

"There's so much history that needs to be told and you can't possibly do it in one day," said Murdock. "But in terms of healing, it's a good thing for our people, for Canada to recognize that there has been such a serious atrocity done to our people, our Indigenous people."

She added that this is a beginning for the country and all healing has to have a start point.

When asked what needs to happen in Canada to achieve reconciliation, she said the stories of Indigenous people need to be told, and they also need to be taught to children in the school system.

This is something Marie Wilson agrees with. She is one of the three commissioners on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

She said the school curriculum needs to be adjusted to share what happened and parents need to have conversations with their kids so they can understand the country's past.

"I think there are individual acts, I think one of the most important ones is to have conversations with our families and with our children. So that we are teaching our children a more true and honest history of our country than the ones that we as adults learned about ourselves," said Wilson.

"Teaching our children well sounds so simple. We need to do that both at home around our dinner tables and in our classrooms in our schools."

She added it is important that schools are not damaging institutions and instead are places where children can see themselves reflected and proud of who they are.

Elder Mae Louis Campbell echoes the education sentiment and added Indigenous people need to rise up and move ahead.

"We have many opportunities now as a people to take charge of our lives, of our minds, of our spirits and say we are moving ahead and we are going to do it our own way," said Campbell.

"Our youth, especially, really, really need to learn their identity, their true identity, the education system has to change and begin to teach our children the truth about who they are."

Campbell said Indigenous people need to speak their truth and put the darkness behind them and celebrate who they are.

More information about the National Truth and Reconciliation Day can be found on the government's website. 

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.