Photo By: Andrew George from Unsplash

This past summer the Government of Canada passed legislation to officially recognize the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation as a federal statutory holiday. 

Previously known as Orange Shirt Day, National Day of Truth and Reconciliation will be observed on September 30 in remembrance of children who lost their lives in Canadian residential schools as well as the survivors who keep their memory alive today. 

The holiday presents an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the devastating impacts of the residential school system on Indigenous peoples and seek further education about the tragedies that took place.

“To me as an Indigenous woman, reconciliation means facing your mistakes and apologizing to whom your actions affected. Together, you can take small steps moving forward. The emphasis is on the ‘together’ part because this is not an Indigenous problem, it’s a Canadian problem. Once everyone acknowledges that then we can start the reconciliation process,” said Roxanne Rees, founder of Saint Michael Catholic High School (STM) Indigenous Education.

Across Niagara, flags will be lowered to half-mast, and many municipalities are hosting their own events in recognition of the holiday. On Sept. 30, the City of Pelham invites community members to join them for the raising of the “Every Child Matters” flag. The flag has been smudged with sweetgrass and sage to honour the missing children and survivors of residential schools. It will be raised at sunrise (7:15 a.m.), and then lowered with the rest to half-mast for the day.

On Oct. 3, Lori Marquis will lead the City of Welland’s “Every Child Matters” walk and invites all community members to join. The walk will take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. starting at Canadian Tire and will head down East Main Street, ending at Merritt Island. Participants are reminded to wear a mask and practice physical distancing where possible.

The Town of Fort Erie is also urging residents to display orange outside their homes and take time to honour victims leading up to the holiday. A media release from the municipality said, “the colour orange is symbolic of the tragedies that occurred at the hands of Canada’s residential school system. By hanging an orange shirt in your window, you are encouraging conversations between those who walk by your home. We believe that one orange shirt has the potential to spark many important conversations.”

Locally at Brock, instead of hosting an in-person gathering this year, Brock Aboriginal Student Services has created a website to allow Indigenous students to spend the day with their loved ones while also participating in virtual events across the Niagara Region. Students who will be on campus this Thursday are encouraged to wear orange and are also invited to write notes of support on orange pieces of paper to be displayed in the Rankin Family Pavilion.

Aboriginal students seeking support and resources to help maintain their identity in the university environment are encouraged to connect with Aboriginal Student Services through their website.