There is a path to truth and reconciliation – but it won’t be an easy path to walk
Last year, September 30 was declared the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Previously, many Indigenous communities celebrated September 30 as Orange Shirt Day, in recognition of student Phyllis Webstad. His brand new orange shirt was stripped off on his first day at St. Joseph’s Mission boarding school in Williams Lake, British Columbia.
The policy of forced assimilation of the residential school system is just one example of the incredible harm suffered by First Nations people during hundreds of years of interaction with a colonizing society that did not understand or respect Indigenous culture.
The attempt to eradicate Indigenous peoples, language and culture is the truth of the story.
But the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people need not be bound forever by this painful past. There is a path to reconciliation. It’s not an easy road and it won’t happen quickly, but it is possible.
Reconciliation begins with acknowledging the enormous pain and damage caused by policies – including that of the residential school system – adopted and perpetuated by state, church and other institutions. Reconciliation also requires recognition of the ongoing intergenerational trauma experienced by survivors of these systems.
These institutions and organizations are slowly apologizing for the damage they have caused. And now, after the apology, comes the time for them to address the painful consequences of hundreds of years of damaging history.
But institutions are made up of individuals. True reconciliation, the kind of healing that is deep and meaningful, requires an understanding and appreciation of the other. It creates the connections that will organically lead to broader societal changes.
For us at the Woodland Cultural Centre, located on Six Nations of the Grand River territory in Brantford, Ontario, we see a desire among non-Indigenous peoples to learn and understand Ogweho:weh history and culture. (original or real people) from Turtle Island. This includes not only the history and legacy of residential schools – such as the Mohawk Institute residential school, which is part of the center – but also the broader scope of Indigenous history and culture.
What does all this mean to mark September 30? On the one hand, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a somber event that recognizes the legacy of residential schools in Canada and honors the survivors – and the children who never returned home. As such, our center will be closing that day to host a private event for survivors of the Mohawk Institute.
But the day can also be a catalyst for all Canadians to learn more about the peoples who have lived here for millennia. Woodland and other Indigenous cultural centers offer tours, workshops, art exhibits and other activities throughout the month to share the rich history and culture of local Indigenous communities. I encourage you to participate in these opportunities.
In the Hodinohsho:ni language, there is a saying that translates to It is a good path; keep your mind strong. Although the origin of this phrase goes back centuries, it testifies well to the continuous efforts to find the Truth and to promote Reconciliation. It is a reminder that September 30 should not be the only day to consider the call to recognition and healing – it is something that can be done every day.