Canada marks first 'National Day of Truth and Reconciliation'

Canada marks first 'National Day of Truth and Reconciliation'
© Greg Nash

Canada marked the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on Thursday to commemorate those impacted by residential schools. 

The holiday honors the "lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities," according to a statement from the Canadian government. A measure to establish the holiday was passed through Canadian Parliament in the spring and made official by receiving Royal Assent in June. 

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation falls on the same day as Orange Shirt Day, which also takes place on Sept. 30 and is an "Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day that honours the children who survived residential schools and remembers those who did not," the Canadian government stated.

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Orange Shirt Day, on which Canadian residents are encouraged to wear the color, represents the loss of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by indigenous children in Canada over a period of time. The idea to wear an orange shirt came after an Indigenous girl, Phyllis Webstad from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation, wore an orange shirt to school before it was taken from her, according to Canada's government. 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement Thursday urging citizens of the country to educate themselves on the history of indigenous residential schools and "recognize the harms, injustices, and intergenerational trauma that Indigenous peoples have faced — and continue to face" due to the school system and systemic racism. 

There were 140 federally controlled Indigenous residential schools in Canada between 1831 and 1998.

During this time, the country separated around 150,000 Indigenous children from their families and sent them to Christian boarding schools to assimilate them into European Canadian society, NPR reported. Thousands of children died of various diseases, and many experienced physical and sexual abuse.

Survivors of the Indigenous residential schools have long advocated for reparations for the harm they experienced, which resulted in Canada creating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that ran from 2008 to 2015.

The commission provided those affected by the schools with a platform to tell their stories and also released a final report with 94 calls to action, including creating a federal day of commemoration, according to NPR. 

Buildings across Canada, including federal buildings, will be lit up orange on Sept. 30 from 7 p.m. to sunrise the following day, according to the Canadian government. 

News of the observance of the holiday comes after hundreds of unmarked graves were found in Canada this year. In June, an Indigenous group found more than 750 unmarked graves at the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School.