Beyond wearing orange: How to meaningfully mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Click to play video: 'How to meaningfully mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation'
How to meaningfully mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Several Indigenous people explain ways Canadians can meaningfully mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, from reading the 94 Calls to Action to attending events and listening to survivors – Sep 29, 2023

Warning: This story deals with disturbing subject matter that may upset and trigger some readers. Discretion is advised.

Sept. 30, 2023 will mark 10 years of Orange Shirt Day and three years since National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was formally recognized as a statutory holiday in Canada.

It’s the first year British Columbia will join Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island to make it a provincial stat as well — providing an opportunity for Canadians to meaningfully mark the day.

While people are encouraged to wear an orange shirt, how can Canadians go beyond that and engage more actively in truth and reconciliation?

Global News spoke with five Indigenous people to get their thoughts:

Note: The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Story continues below advertisement

Angela White, Snuneymuxw First Nation

Angela White is the executive director of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, an organization that provides essential services to residential school survivors and families. 

Q. How can people meaningfully mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

Angela White: I think the biggest and most important part of people working towards meaningful reconciliation is to educate themselves and not just relying on Indigenous people to be that voice. Pick up the books, watch the movies, be actively resourceful so they can have a more interactive experience when we do get to Sept. 30. It’s about meaningfully and respectfully engaging in culture.

Listening to survivor stories, even if it’s not in person, there’s enough survivor stories out there on video, on podcasts, in books that people can actually start to understand where survivors are coming from — how residential schools have impacted their families, communities, and what that healing journey looks like. It’s believing those stories too.

Story continues below advertisement

Donating to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society is a meaningful way for people to participate because we’re out here doing the work. We’re here to ensure that our communities are taken care of mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

It’s really important to understand residential school survivors’ journeys — that they’re difficult, vulnerable, and a lot of them feel alone, so just walk beside them. We don’t need to say anything, we just need to let them know that they are not alone. And our goal here is to help move from being in survivor mode towards thriving.

Click to play video: 'How the orange shirt became the symbol for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation'
How the orange shirt became the symbol for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Summer Tyance, Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek

Summer Tyance is a first-year law student at the University of Victoria. They’re also an artist, poet and podcaster.

Story continues below advertisement

Q. How can people meaningfully mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

Summer Tyance: I think education is huge and really thinking about Call to Action 62 when it comes to education of the residential school system. It’s a 20-page document, 94 Calls to Action; if you sit there and read that document, I think that’s a great step to learn about the impacts and what Indigenous peoples want to see happen.

These pieces help people understand that this is not just history. These systems are still impacting us and colonialism is rippling across generations.

I really hope people take this time to learn and educate themselves. It’s hard for Indigenous people to constantly be educating. I hope people will realize the importance of taking the time themselves to unlearn (and) seek out resources, but also contemporary Indigenous works, like art and novels.

Try and find an event near you and listen to elders’ stories, listen to our songs, celebrate our culture because residential school systems were about getting rid of our culture. So if you go out there and celebrate it, acknowledge that it’s still alive and it’s thriving … that’s huge.

Another way is to think about the term reconciliation, that it’s not just an act, it’s not a one-time thing but a lifelong commitment to unlearning. Try and spend some time thinking about the colonial systems we engage, and stand up, be a voice for Indigenous people, but also remember not to take up too much space.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Librarians create tool for accessing residential school survivor stories'
Librarians create tool for accessing residential school survivor stories

Marilyn Jensen, Tagish First Nation

Marilyn Jensen is an educator who shares Indigenous culture and history with non-Indigenous people. She’s also a dancer, works in community wellness and healing, and is a champion of Indigenous tourism.

Q. How can people meaningfully mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

Marilyn Jensen: It’s up to companies, organizations and governments to say that yeah, this is a stat holiday but we’re going to participate in whatever kind of activities are going on in the community — especially if they are giving the opportunity to engage with Indigenous people.

People should be going to community events where survivors of residential school are being held or remembered.

Story continues below advertisement

If you want to be really proactive, you could donate your day’s salary or do something that actually benefits Indigenous people — like purchasing art, beadwork or an Indigenous experience. That’s engaging in reconciliation.

You know we can’t do everything on this one day. Reconciliation can’t be accomplished today, but there are little ways that we can work towards every day.

And Indigenous tourism is a great way to start. You’ll get to hear stories shared by Indigenous people who are generously giving you the opportunity to form a unique connection.

Priscilla Omulo, Tsartlip First Nation

Priscilla Omulo is a mother, law student, community organizer, author and filmmaker. 

Q. How can people meaningfully mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

Priscilla Omulo: People should familiarize themselves with Phyllis Webstad, her story and the significance of the orange shirt.

The day is really about being able to take the time to unlearn. People should think about what they can do in their lives to meet the Calls to Action, know what they are and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You need to start by doing the work yourself, then doing it in the community and at your job and slowly building it into your day-to-day.

Story continues below advertisement

An activity that might be helpful for non-Indigenous people is spending time figuring out what their connection to the land is. Going back to recognizing coming here as a settler, how long your family has been here, what brought your family here, what were some of the struggles and triumphs that were experienced in doing so — knowing who you are and where you come from is something that’s very meaningful when addressing colonization.

It’s important for people to think of colonization and the pain it has caused our people. Learning about history will help provide folks with a greater appreciation and a much deeper understanding.

Click to play video: 'New children’s book by Orange Shirt Day founder, Phyllis Webstad explains ‘Every Child Matters’ meaning'
New children’s book by Orange Shirt Day founder, Phyllis Webstad explains ‘Every Child Matters’ meaning

Danilo Caron, Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation

Danilo Caron is a PhD student studying civil engineering and will help run the Intergenerational March at UBC on Sept. 30.

Story continues below advertisement

Q. How can people meaningfully mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

I believe that we all have a circle of influence around us which varies for different people, and there’s power within that.

I see reconciliation at the personal level as conversations over the fence with your neighbour, with your children — how you hear news stories and you explain it to them and let them question why.

People should make an attempt to learn through listening to knowledge keepers or people with lived experience and as they expand their understanding and are exposed to more truths, that will encourage them to challenge the status quo.

I used to work in construction, so what that would look like in that setting would be in the construction trailer. When you hear racism at its source, you’re the person who shuts that down.

Truth and reconciliation are small actions, but they’re also institutional actions and national actions and that sphere of influence is how you can have impact.

Still unsure where to start? Check out this list compiled by Culture Days for National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society operates the Lamathut Crisis Line a 24-hour crisis line (1-800-721-0066) to support survivors and families. 

Sponsored content