Orange Shirt Day: Speak Up, Take Action

By Lorraine Rousseau

September 30th: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day. This is the second year in which this day is recognized as a national federal statutory holiday. The day honours the children who suffered, never returned home and honours the lives of survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities. Recognizing this day should not be just another day off — it’s a day to pledge to genuinely walk on the path of Truth and Reconciliation.

Recognizing this day as a federal statuary holiday was not a simple process— years of lobbying, incredible work from grassroot activists and Indigenous leaders, and communities. Yet, this is not a holiday across this land, Canada.

Together, let’s take a collective action. Let’s honour the victims, survivors and their families, and hold space for Indigenous communities to guide us through this. There is no Reconciliation without Truth. We, collectively, know the truth about the evil legacy of residential schools, the crimes committed against Indigenous communities over centuries— and the ongoing discrimination. Learning must be simultaneous with unlearning: unlearn whatever taught to serve the legacy of colonialism. 

The sinister legacy of residential schools in Canada isn’t part of history, it creeps to our present. As we’re aware, the last school was closed in 1998— most of us are old enough to remember that. Over the past few years, our societies have become more aware of what happened in residential schools, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit. However, Indigenous leaders, activists and communities have always spoken the Truth, we are just now listening. The discovery of thousands of unmarked graves, children who never made it home, opened wounds that never healed. Was there a residential school near to where you live now? It’s not a surprise to find one. While residential schools don’t exist anymore, survivors and their families relive the traumatizing experiences— memories that can’t be erased.

When speaking of Truth and Reconciliation, I realize that the bulk of responsibility lies on governments: federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal. I’ve used this space several times to urge readers to take action by putting pressure on governments to implement all 94 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. We hear a lot of empty promises from politicians. Statements and announcements have no value with no action: commitment to change and decolonize. I invite you to visit and view the calls to action, share information and raise awareness. How many of those are implemented? Calls to Action cover broad, very important topics including honouring and preserving Indigenous languages. Do you know that many Indigenous workers, who communicate in Indigenous languages in addition to English, are not treated the same as their counterparts who speak French? Honouring Indigenous languages is an action on the path of Truth and Reconciliation.

Implementing TRC Calls to Action is our responsibility too— the citizens. We can’t afford to be bystanders. We can’t afford to wait, now is the time to take action. Whether at work, within our communities, and beyond, each one of us can raise awareness. There are workshops and events available this week, and throughout the year. There are educational courses. There are ceremonies held by Indigenous communities. Please attend with open hearts and pledge to be allies.

Let’s remember the Honourable Murray Sinclair words: “Education is what got us here, and education is what will get us out.”

This column appeared in the Yellowknifer on September 28.