Phyllis Webstad proudly wore her orange shirt before September 30 became a national holiday.
The author, speaker, and activist who tells her story about keeping the residential school system alive across the country is the creator of Orange Shirt Day, which celebrates the 30th day to recognize the pitfalls of the residential school system and support survivors is marked.
But while Webstad is happy that she is able to share her experiences—she was devastated when a new orange shirt her grandmother bought her was taken away by missionaries at the residential school she attended—she hopes that the holiday would inspire more settlers to educate themselves.
“It’s not just Indigenous history, it’s Canada’s history, and now there’s no excuse for what happened to us,” she said, adding that there are many resources about the history and impact of residential schools that can easily Can be found online.
Orange Shirt Day has now become a federal statutory holiday known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It was enacted earlier this summer after the identification of the mass unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children who died in residential schools they were forced to attend.
The holiday is six years old, as it was one of 94 calls to action presented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, which urged governments to deal with the loss of residential schools. So far only a few calls have been completed.
While the creation of the holiday has sparked some hope for positive change, it has also ignited a sense of panic over real, concrete action to improve the lives of indigenous peoples.
Granthshala spoke to Webstead and others in Indigenous communities about how they feel about the first official National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, their concerns and hopes.
Here are their reactions.
Phyllis is a member of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation in Webstad, BC, the creator of Orange Shirt Day, and a residential school survivor.
I am feeling overwhelmed but I am humbled and honored that my story can make a difference across Canada and in awareness and education. This is becoming history, this is historical, and Canadian society is making more sense.
Orange Shirt Day has mainly been in elementary and high schools, but more corporations and governments are getting involved this year. This is being discussed more openly.
All indigenous people who are comfortable educating others can continue to do so, but I know some who refuse to do so. They are asked to speak and they say no. But I’m half-European and I have a foot in both worlds so I don’t mind being that bridge.
there’s a lot to read [for settlers]. There are 94 calls to action, the TRC reports which has a section on missing children and unmarked burials. When the children were exposed, we were not aware of it.
And there are reports of murder and missing women and girls that I haven’t even read myself. I am also learning and just because I am indigenous does not mean that I am an expert in everything.
Eve Tuck, Professor of OISE at the University of Toronto, is Unangax̂ and a member of the Aleut community of St. Paul’s Island, Alaska.
I am torn by the creation of a national holiday because the effect of national holidays is to strengthen indigenous communities’ self-determination with respect to their homeland and waters, rather than to strengthen Canada’s nation-state.
But I think it makes sense to remember and reflect on the day-to-day flow of work and school. I hope Indigenous people can spend time with their elders and children, loving them and helping them feel safe in the world and heard.
I hope white people can ask Indigenous people to do more work in one day than to engage in work, watch movies, and art made by indigenous people on the 364 other days of the year that indigenous communities do. should be focused.
Megan Scribe is an Acting Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, some called X University. He is an Iniv from Norway House Cree Nation.
It is important that the actions the federal government has chosen to take include a highly public gesture that gives an impression of acceptance and engagement with the TRC.
To date, Canada has responded to less than 10 out of 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action. Given that the call to action was issued in June 2015, now six years ago, I would have expected the federal government to respond to more than a handful.
For many, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation confirms the misconception that residential school is a sad chapter in Canadian history, but for me the day is an opportunity to raise awareness of the ongoing state violence that continues. Canada commits crimes against indigenous people on a daily basis. .
Gertie Pierre, of Seychellet First Nation in BC, is a residential school survivor and works here Indian Residential School Survivors Society.
I’m feeling a lot of emotion and anxiety and I don’t know what to do. I’m praying we’re all gonna come together [on Sept. 30] and do some kind of treatment.
I am concerned about the elders… and the families who are going through the grief and trauma, whatever has happened, happened after the dead body was found. It’s something that makes your heart tear – you feel fear for everyone because it’s so painful.
[News coverage on the graves] reopens all wounds when you attended residential school and everything that happened to you there, and you think of other people lying in graves that weren’t able to talk about it that what they were doing. We have come here to speak on his behalf.
Christina Gray, an associate at JFK Law Corporation in Vancouver, is a Tsien citizen from Lax Qualams in BC and Dene from Treaty 8 area in the Northwest Territories.
The national holiday is a good first step in recognizing the part of Canada that is harming Indigenous peoples related to residential schools. Much more remains to be done in terms of implementing the call for truth and reconciliation.
This year we have seen a lot of the challenging work that indigenous nations have taken to locate the graves of indigenous children. I would love to see both provincial and federal governments take a more active and participatory role in making that work.
My dad passed away two years ago and he went to two residential schools in the Northwest Territories: Lapoint Hall and Breynaut Hall. He gave his testimony. He shared a video [of his experiences]. It is part of the legacy he left.
It is really important to talk about these things because we have to learn from these histories and experiences so that history is not repeated.
Tony Bombery is a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River and is a residential school survivor.
At our Survivor Secretariat meeting a few weeks ago, we got a message from the Blue Jays and they were ready to give away five or six tickets and possibly throw the first pitch into a game. [Thursday].
So I know there’s opportunity, I know [settlers] are trying. But going back to the government, it is still not an equal opportunity.
I live in Six Nations and we still don’t have running water. We are the largest reserve in Canada in terms of people, and we still don’t have that basic need. Internet services are so bad here… dollar funding for our programs, we’re underfunded. People are disappointed.
There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but when we took out marches in different cities a few months back, I was amazed. People know that people are supporting, but are we doing without seeing any action? And that’s what I want to see.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.