Reflections on Truth and Reconciliation

Friday, September 30, 2022
National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

by Emma Kirke

Friday September 30 marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, an occasion to publicly commemorate and re-commit to the important work of building towards reconciliation with the diverse First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples who have called Turtle Island home since time immemorial. As a citizen of the settler state, living, working, and studying here, I am reminded on this National Day of Remembrance of the progress made but also of the distance we still have to go as we continually work to meaningfully address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action published in 2015.   

The Truth and Reconciliation calls to action reach across all sectors of Canadian society, from education to healthcare to faith groups. In the seven years since the 94 calls to Truth and Reconciliation were published, only 13 have been accomplished, which is outnumbered by the 19 that have not yet been started according to CBC’s tracker, Beyond 94. While some of the calls require change by institutions like governments, by no means does the responsibility rest solely on people who sit in boardrooms and legislatures.  

Even in the four years between when my younger sibling and I sat in a Grade ten classroom, the extent to which Indigenous education featured in the curriculum taught at the same high school had leapt forward. But this change did not happen through top-down direction, rather we had teachers that went out of their way to seek out diverse Indigenous voices to include in our reading list.  

I have been privileged over the years to meet with survivors of the residential school system. Time and time again, I am in awe of the courage and generosity they demonstrate in retelling their histories. In turn, I feel the enormous responsibility I have as a settler to use the information to inform how I go forward in all areas of my life. We need everyday advocates in every sector of life from the mundane to the memorable, so that Indigenous education is not the exception but rather the standard. Indigenous peoples cannot be the sole advocates for their rights; rather, we all need to work together to ensure their voices are heard the loudest.  

Many settler people that I have sat down with over the years on conversations around this issue have expressed a fear that they do not yet have the knowledge to begin the process. This reasoning can no longer be an excuse. While there is still a long way to go, many institutions have stepped up in recent years, offering numerous opportunities to learn and engage with Indigenous communities as a settler ally. At the University of Waterloo, an introductory elective course is offered as ING 201: The Indigenous Experience in Canada. For those outside of the University of Waterloo, the University of Alberta offers a free 12-lesson course on Indigenous Canada.  

Beyond institutions and their classrooms, important learning experiences can also take the form of participation in events led by local Indigenous communities. Last weekend, I attended the Pow Wow hosted by the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre in Waterloo Park. It was beautiful to see the all-nations tots and juniors join in the arena, dancing to the beat of the drums, learning as they went  

This year, the Office of Indigenous Relations at UWaterloo is holding different events throughout the morning of October 30th on the BMH Green on campus to mark the National Day, including a sunrise ceremony, feast, drumming, and a round dance.  

As a spectator at the Pow Wow, I realized the importance of bringing an attitude of humility and a willingness to learn in order to contribute to the journey towards truth and reconciliation with my Indigenous neighbours.