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National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – a time for reflection

By Lori Campbell Posted: September 23, 2021 1:10 p.m.

September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Photo: stock

On September 30, the University of Regina will join the Government of Canada in recognizing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday. Our halls will be empty as we take a day to pause and allow members of our University community time to attend events, engage in community ceremonies, and reflect on Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. 

Everyone in Canada should have the opportunity to increase their knowledge and understanding on this day. That’s because every Canadian has a role to play in the journey towards reconciliation. 

When I accepted my position as Associate Vice-President (Indigenous Engagement) at the University of Regina this summer, I did not imagine my first message to campus would be about the tragic news of 215 unmarked and undocumented graves being identified at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. Nor was I prepared that, less than a month later, my second message would be regarding the identification of 751 unmarked graves at Marieval Indian Residential School at Cowesses First Nation here in Saskatchewan. 

Lori-Campbell-2.jpg

Lori Campbell, Associate Vice-President,
Indigenous Engagement
Photo provided by Lori Campbell

Since then, hundreds of other graves have been identified at former Indian residential schools across Turtle Island. And more will continue to be identified as the work to find and bring home our missing children has just begun.  

These “discoveries” have been distressing and traumatizing for many Indigenous peoples and communities. They also confirm the truth of what many of our Elders and survivors of these schools have spoken of. Truth that – though being documented in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Final Report, Volume 4, Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing and Unmarked Burials – has gone largely unrecognized by many Canadians until recently. 

It is important to recognize that the residential school system is not a tragic footnote in Canada’s past. There are approximately 80,000 survivors of these schools alive today. As an intergenerational survivor of residential schools, I was also one of an estimated 20,000 Indigenous children who were taken from their families and placed in the child welfare system in what is now known as the Sixties Scoop, another government attempt to assimilate Indigenous peoples and commit cultural genocide. 

Starting in 2008 the TRC crisscrossed the country to interview more than 6,000 witnesses, including many survivors of residential schools who bore witness to the devastating impacts on them, on their communities, and on those who are left to heal from the intergenerational trauma that is the legacy of these institutions. The TRC release its final report and Calls to Action in 2015 and included a call for the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish a statutory holiday a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process. 

In response to this recommendation earlier this summer the federal government passed legislation designating September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and a federal statutory holiday. The day is also known as Orange Shirt Day, which began in Williams Lake B.C. in 2013 to honour Indigenous children sent to residential schools in Canada. 

As Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the TRC notes in the Final Report of the TRC, Reconciliation will not be easy and it will take time, but to make it happen, we must believe it should happen… All people in Canada, including newcomers, have a role in this relationship-building process. While we may not all share a past connected to the residential schools, we share a future. We must all call for an ongoing process of reconciliation, regardless of political affiliation, cultural background, or personal history. 

The University of Regina has committed to Truth and Reconciliation through teaching, research, learning and service. This is why the University has chosen to create time on September 30 for the campus community to reflect on and learn more about Canada’s past, to honour and remember the victims of the residential school system, and to consider how each of us can walk the path to reconciliation. 

Canada’s dark and painful past needs to be part of our current dialogue. Taking time to address it – learn from it – is important work. I can only hope it will help us to never repeat past mistakes. 

Lori Campbell is the Associate Vice-President (Indigenous Engagement) at the University of Regina. 

Related

Statement on Cowessess First Nation

Message from Incoming AVP, Indigenous Engagement

U of R welcomes Lori Campbell as new Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Engagement