Is your organization ready to commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th?
Created last year, this new holiday was the federal government’s response to the 94 calls to action published by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Referring to call number 80, the new holiday aimed to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools. As there was already a successful movement to commemorate this history on September 30 (called Orange Shirt Day) the government decided to host the new holiday on the same date.
Orange Shirt Day was born out of a story told during the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion event. In May 2013, Esketemc Chief Fred Robbins brought together former students to share their stories and experiences. It was there that former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad shared her story of how her brand new orange shirt was taken away during her first day of residential school. Her story, and the symbol of her orange shirt, became the impetus for Orange Shirt Day. The date, September 30, was chosen as it marked the beginning of the school year when children were taken away to residential schools. The orange shirts and the date act as powerful reminders each year of the survivors of residential school and the ongoing journey of reconciliation.
Even though it’s not a provincial holiday in Alberta, we recommend 2 ways your organization can engage on September 30.
- Confront the history
There is a lot of content posted on the internet on the topic and it can feel overwhelming. To start, we recommend learning about the history of residential schools, as this is the core of National Truth and Reconciliation Day. The TRC has a brief outline of this history on their webpage, as well as a more detailed timeline. They also host an archive with over 220 books for adults on a wide variety of topics related to Indigenous peoples.
Learn and Experience:
For more active learning, the University of Alberta offers a free online course titled Indigenous Canada. This 12-week course is self-guided and covers the history and legacy of Indigenous peoples.
Alternatively, you can experience stories and artifacts in person through the Indigenous Peoples Experience at Fort Edmonton Park. Open year-round, this award-winning exhibition provides the opportunity to learn in person.
Watch and Listen:
For visual learners, the documentary film Colonization Road offers a glimpse into contemporary challenges faced by communities. In this film, Ryan McMahon (an Anishinaabe comedian) discovers the impact of roads that physically affect Indigenous communities.
Looking at current Indigenous representation in media, Matika Wilbur and Adrienne Keene host the podcast All My Relations. Though they’re based in the US, their conversations still resonate with challenges faced by Indigenous people in Canada.
2. Participate in reconciliation
The second way is to actively participate in reconciliation by engaging with and recruiting Indigenous peoples (which are both listed in call to action number 92). Engaging with Indigenous organizations can be as straightforward as buying gifts for staff from the Indigenous Artist Market Collective. Alternatively, businesses can partner with organizations like the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society to learn about better serving the Indigenous community.
Next is to hire more Indigenous talent in your organization. This might require an audit of your workplace, to learn what can be improved to create a more welcoming environment that attracts Indigenous talent. Consider partnering with Indigenous employment and training society to bring on students or youth as paid interns. Leaders and managers in your organization can consider trauma-informed coaching, to practice having difficult conversations with team members about Indigenous recruitment.
Reconciliation in Canada will take more than one day per year. To build inclusive and welcoming workplaces for Indigenous peoples, organizations will need to build a foundation of knowledge and continuously learn. Ask us how we can help implement this learning at your organization.
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