September 30 is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and Orange Shirt Day. It's a day to honour the survivors of Canada's Indian residential schools, and the thousands of children who never returned. It's a day to recognize the trauma and inter-generational impacts suffered by families and communities. It's a day for Indigenous people to try and help each other heal, and for non-Indigenous people to reflect on the roles our government, churches, institutions and individuals played in stripping vulnerable children of their culture, their traditions, their language, their spirituality, their family relationships, and the right not to be emotionally, physically, and sexually abused. It's a day for all of us to contemplate this truly horrific chapter in our country's history, and its long-reaching effects.
It's a day to really let the numbers sink in. That over a span of about 150 years (between 1831 and the late 1990s(!) when the last federally supported residential schools closed) 150,000 or more First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation children were taken with the goal of assimilating them. That more than 2000 unmarked graves have been found. That over 4000 children is estimated to have died in government-funded, church-run schools.
It's a day (but not just a day, week, or year) of acknowledging and recognizing the truth of what happened, and a day of starting or continuing the process of reconciliation. It's a day of understanding both intellectually and emotionally that every child matters indeed.
I wish the notion that all children are important was actually true in terms of individual and societal actions. Because it wasn't true for the ones ripped from their families and sent to those schools. Still isn't true today if you count something like access to clean drinking water as just one example of many.
It wasn't true for the working-class kids sent to Ontario Training Schools either. And while not comparable in terms of cultural genocide, lasting trauma from severe abuse meted out by unqualified or plain sadistic adults also haunts its survivors to this day.
It still isn't true if you consider the number of children currently living in poverty, going hungry, or being abused in any number of ways. We need to do more than pay lip service, more than small gestures like wearing an orange shirt. We need to genuinely honour, listen to survivors, and make reconciliation more than just a goal.
On Friday, please reflect on the children who never made it home, and the ones who did, but not unscathed. Listen, learn, support, share, amplify, challenge stereotypes, respect, celebrate, attend an event - just do something to help make things better.
Some of the information I used in this post comes from Missing Children of Indian Residential Schools, a comprehensive resource of text, photos and recommended documents, compiled by the University of Windsor. And here's a good article for those wondering what they can do to better understand history, and what they can do now: Why the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation isn't just another stat holiday.