We’re dedicating the feature section of today’s newsletter to covering the memorial events that took place yesterday for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour the survivors of Canada’s genocidal residential school system.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has so far identified more than 4,100 children who died at residential schools. More than 150,000 Indigneous students were forced to attend the institutions.

The system was funded by the federal government and mostly administered by Christian churches. The last institution closed in 1997.

How The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Came About

CBC explains how survivors of the genocidal residential school system — which forcibly separated Indigenous children from their families, and subjected them to horrific physical and sexual abuse, and, in many cases, death — fought to establish the holiday.

As CBC notes:

  • Marking Truth and Reconciliation Day was a recommendation of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the holiday only came to pass because of the efforts of survivors like Cowichan Nation member Eddy Charlie and Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation member Phyllis Webstad, and the national reckoning over residential schools sparked by the locating of unmarked graves in Kamloops, B.C. earlier this year.

Both Charlie and Webstad were involved in efforts to legislate the holiday, CBC explains.

  • A private members bill aimed at establishing a national holiday failed to pass in 2019, but efforts continued.
  • The locating of hundreds of bodies of children in unmarked graves at the former grounds of residential schools this year put pressure on the federal government to take action.
  • While the locating of the unmarked graves caused shock among some Canadians, the findings were not a surprise to many Indigenous people who had long known about the existence of unmarked grave sites.

A federal bill establishing the holiday received royal assent on June 5. For more background on the significance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and its history, check out yesterday’s newsletter.

Former Truth and Reconciliation Chairman Reflects On National Day

In an interview with APTN published Thursday, former senator and chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Murray Sinclair said:

We point out that only about 35 per cent of Indigenous children were ever sent to a residential school but the remaining 65 per cent were sent to public schools which essentially taught them the same thing. Therefore, they grew up believing what the school was teaching them. That is that they were inferior, and that white Europeans settlers were superior. That belief not only affected the Indigenous kids that were there, but affected the white kids that were there too.”

Sinclair added:

I think there is a growing body of reasonable people out there who are trying to figure out what to do and what they can do to contribute to the process of reconciliation, but the difficulty they face, the difficulty that Canada faces generally, is that there is a group of very vocal, very influential people in Canada who hold significant positions of power who are working hard against reconciliation. People who are holding positions of privilege, who are benefitting from the riches of this country that have been taken away from Indigenous people.”

What do non-Indigenous people need to do about this? Sinclair explained:

One of the things I make sure non-Indigenous people understand is we don’t need you to help heal us; we need you to fix yourselves. We need you to get those people out there who are perpetrating this process of working against reconciliation under control.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Vacations In Tofino

While many Canadians participated in memorial events and gatherings across the country to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vacationed in Tofino, B.C., Global News reports, despite his official itinerary stating he was scheduled to be in private meetings in Ottawa.

A spokesperson for Trudeau told Global News Thursday:

  • “Yes, the PM is spending time in Tofino with family for a few days.”
  • “And, following his participation in last night’s ceremony marking the first National Day for Truth & Reconciliation, he is speaking today with residential school survivors from across the country,” the spokesperson added.

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, the First Nation that located the bodies of 215 children at a residential school site earlier this year, said they had sent the prime minister two “heartfelt” invitations asking for him to join survivors for commemorations marking the holiday.

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