Truth and Reconciliation: Why a Holiday isn't Enough
“It’s a holiday!”
Those three words have been used in countless households to encompass several days throughout the year.
No matter what the day is, whether it’s remembering the brave soldiers who fought in wars, like The United State’s Memorial Day, or days that have darker roots, reminding us that our countries condoned and practiced genocide of communities they deemed lesser than them, we tend to regard these ‘smaller’ holidays as days off of work, and not much else.
That is what we’ve let them become.
Several holidays have lost their original meaning and become just another day off, not a day of remembrance or practice.
The 30th of September marks the third annual Truth and Reconciliation Day for Canada, and it’s time we start unpacking it.
What is Truth and Reconciliation Day?
Truth and Reconciliation Day is a Canadian day of national mourning. The day acts as a reminder of the abusive history that Canadian residential schools had towards Indigenous peoples.
The school systems and teachers would often act in aggressive and violent manners, trying to assimilate aboriginal children into their white Christian culture. The day specifically honors children who never returned home from their schools or those who survived, yet still carry trauma.
An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children attended residential or boarding schools between the 1860s and 1996. Of those 150,000 children, thousands have reported incidents of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as at least 4,100 reported deaths.
In 2021, Canada’s parliament declared September 30 a national day of mourning and atonement for residential schools. September 30th is also known as Residential Schools Day or Orange Shirt Day.
Orange Shirt Day is based on a book written by Phyllis Webstad. It is a non-fiction picture book that depicts a day when she wore an orange shirt to school and it was wrongfully stolen from her and never returned. Orange Shirt Day thus became an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day intended to raise awareness of the individual, family, and community intergenerational impacts of residential schools, and to promote the concept of “Every Child Matters”. Many Canadians pay homage to this story and the millions of others it represents by wearing an orange shirt on the 30th.
But this day of remembrance cannot be dumbed down to the day we all wear orange t-shirts. There is much more to it.
Why It's Not Enough
Even though The Day for Truth and Reconciliation remembers horrendous acts made against Indigenous peoples, Canadians chose a colonizer’s term to define the day.
This fantastic article gives more context about the word’s meaning, roots, and connotation, but the gist is that ‘reconciliation’ translates to a day of photo-ops and polished press opportunities. The author says, “The fad and conversation of reconciliation that our people are playing a role in is immobilizing “leadership” and converting Indigenous people into colonially operated marionettes.” In short, “This type of reconciliation is a distraction.”
The name that serves as a reminder of the horrors colonization has created for the Indigenous people of Canada is a representation of colonization in and of itself.
Millions of companies, government officials, or social media initiatives take a marginalized group of people and turn them into a marketing stunt.
Think about pride season. Companies rainbow-wash everything and celebrate their 2SLGBTQIA+ staff, then August comes along and the same companies that had a rainbow flag on their logo turn around and mistreat the trans members of their staff, don’t respect deadnames or pronouns, or simply make assumptions and casually cruel remarks as a part of the workroom talk.
This is an unending cycle that is prevalent throughout all of the world and it must end.
On the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Saba Aziz, a writer for Global News, wrote an article detailing the mixed feelings unearthed on this day.
She said this day was a ‘good first step’. We need to remember and make amends for our country’s terrible actions, but the country needs to do more than remember.
Aziz interviewed Ashley Bach in her article. Bach, a member of the Mishkeegogamang First Nation, said that this is a time to encourage your staff to take a day off, not to go on a trip or sleep in, but to educate themselves.
In response to the horrendous reports about the atrocities that the Indigenous people faced, the Trudeau government promised to implement all 94 calls to action. As of June 30 of 2021, 14 were completed, 23 were in progress, 37 were proposed, and 20 had not begun.
How to Reimagine Holidays
There is a stigma around holidays, traditions, and days of remembrance.
Our culture doesn’t know how to practice holidays in a meaningful way. We’re always thinking about the next project, the day, or holiday.
Holidays need to be days of rest, but they should also be days of allyship. Instead of taking your day off from work and thanking whatever holiday is printed on the top of your calendar for it, think about the people for whom this day of remembrance was created.
On The Day for Truth and Reconciliation, wear your orange shirt, but also look into Canadian charities that are dedicated to helping Indigenous communities in your area. Honor the Indigenous people in your community and take the initiative.
This year, on the day for Truth and Reconciliation, look for the truth in the holiday, research it, and see if Canada is following through on its promises, or if the day has already lost its meaning. With this intentionality and deliberateness, we can restructure what holidays are and how they’re remembered.