“Reflection Is Not Enough”

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is only a start

This year, the Canadian Federal government marked September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This follows the initial discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Residential School on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation ground in May 2021, as well as the subsequent discovery of over 5,000 more at various former residential school sites across so-called Canada. Indigenous people across Turtle Island have fought to expose the truth of these mass graves for many years. However, it was not until the Canadian Government’s recognition of these mass graves that widespread attention was garnered from the settler population. The discovery also drew international scrutiny, increasing pressure on the Canadian government to take accountability for the truth.  While the implementation of a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a step towards addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 calls to action, only eight action items have been completed according to First Nation-led research centre, the Yellowhead Institute. Much more has to be done to support Indigenous communities across Turtle Island in a substantial manner.

Prior to the government’s establishment of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, September 30 has been commemorated as “orange shirt day.” Since 2013, the day has been meant to educate and bring attention to residential schools and their lasting impacts on Indigenous peoples and communities. Federally, the 30 is now recognized as a statutory holiday. However, its implementation has been left up to the discretion of individual provincial governments. Notably, six provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick – have decided against recognizing the date as a provincial statutory holiday. These provinces have consciously rejected the basic, essential action of recognizing the genocide enacted by the Canadian settler-state against Indigenous people.

While the day is an essential moment for settlers across so-called Canada to show solidarity with Indigenous people, it is only one step in a larger process of reckoning with the illegitimacy of the colonial state. Of the TRC’s 94 calls to action, only eight have been implemented in the six years since the commission’s final report. While some calls have been responded to in legislation, they have not been actioned, both in terms of funding and implementing concrete policy. Progress on items such as the 2021 National Action: Ending Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls, And 2SLGBTQQIA+ has been slow, dysfunctional, and indicative of larger trends of neglect and systemic abuse in the government’s treatment of Indigenous people. Reconciliation, as figured by the government, remains purposely abstracted; it has more to do with performative apologies than material change.

Concrete action must be taken to support survivors of the residential school system and ensure that survivors and communities thrive. While recognition and education are important, more must be done to dismantle the fundamentally exploitative and genocidal underpinnings of the Canadian settler-state. Among the TRC’s 94 calls to action are: decreasing the number of Indigenous children in the child welfare system, creation of an Indigenous languages act, and a strategy to eliminate educational and employment gaps between Indigenous people and settlers. Nakuset of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal reiterates that, “Reflection is not enough – participating, listening and supporting Indigenous people, who are still reeling from the multi-generational trauma of residential school, is a proactive stance to commemorate this day.”

Settlers have a responsibility to stand behind and with Indigenous communities beyond the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Support Indigenous liberation movements across Turtle Island – donate to Fairy Creek, Tiny House Warriors, 1492 Landback Lane, and the Git’luuhl’um’hetxwit cabin and camp fund. You can also support organizations that serve Indigenous people in Montreal, such as the Native Women’s Shelter, Resilience Montreal, the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal, and Open Door. You can directly support survivors through the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, the Legacy of Hope Foundation, the Orange Shirt Society, True North Aid, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.