September 30, 2021 is Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Since 2013 this day had been commemorated as “Orange Shirt Day” where people wore orange as a public display of solidarity for those who survived, or did not survive, Residential Schools as well as their descendants. The creation of a statutory holiday responds to number 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action, which specifically asked for the federal government to establish a statutory holiday “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.”
The Centre for Human Rights Research (CHRR) at the University of Manitoba, located on Treaty One territory and the homeland of the Metis Nation, was established three years before the TRC issued these calls to action. The CHRR’s mandate is to foster and communicate research around human rights in and around the University of Manitoba. Within the particular context of where we work, this means a substantial and ongoing engagement with Indigenous rights, and with the many moments in Canada’s past and present where the human rights of Indigenous peoples have been violated, sidelined and/or ignored. It also means uplifting those who are working to demand both Indigenous and human rights for Indigenous peoples and communities.
On the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we urge people to access some of the many resources around the history of Indian Residential Schools from the 1880s to the 1990s and their ongoing connections to the current over-representation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system, the disproportionate number of Indigenous people in Canada’s jails, and murdered and missing Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit Plus people.
You might visit the wealth of information available at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. You might attend some of the events, many of them virtual, being held around the University of Manitoba’s campus on this day and this week. You also might participate in one of the many events being organized by community -based Indigenous organizations in the city of Winnipeg including a healing walk beginning at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights at 11 am on 30 September 2021.
If you are a non-Indigenous person who is looking for ways to better understand the history of residential schooling, its relationship to colonialism both past and present, the CHRR has compiled resources here. In addition, the Winnipeg Public Library’s guide to residential schools includes a wealth of knowledge and material. You might read CHRR manager Dr. Pauline Tennent and colleague’s recent discussion in The Conversation, or Kathleen McKenzie and CHRR research affiliate Dr. Sean Carleton’s timely contribute to Active History.
Readers can also learn more about the histories of residential schooling and their implications in contributions to the CHRR’s and Mamawipawin new project, At the Forks. Recent articles include William Osborne and Anne Lindsay’sdiscussion of researching residential school family histories, and Sarah Carter’s analysis of the first wave feminist Emily Murphy’s work, including her connection to residential schooling. A difficult but important discussion of the connections between residential schools, child labour and unfreedom authored by Karlee Sapoznik Evans, Anne Lindsay and Niigaan Sinclair will be posted soon.
In the last months, longstanding knowledge about unmarked graves around residential school sites across Canada, and the children who were never able to grow up to be Elders, have been confirmed and brought to new light and attention. Ongoing discussion about what accountability can, and should look like continues. There is much work to be done to fully understand and document the devastating and ongoing impact of residential schooling for First Nations, Inuit and Metis people — and its implications for Canada as a whole. For the CHRR, September 30, 2021 is a day of learning, reflection, action – to sharpen our commitment to doing this work in partnership, community, and solidarity.