Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 80: Commemoration (79-83)

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation marked with song, marches, powwows across Canada

September 30, 2023

Events honour residential school survivors, promote reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples

How Orange Shirt Day has evolved: Duration 5:25

Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity for non-Indigenous people to learn and reflect. Shana Dion from the University of Alberta tells about the meaning of the day, and how it has developed over the years.

Click on the following ink to view the video:

CBC News: People throughout Canada attended gatherings on Saturday to mark the third annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, with many turning out in orange shirts to honour Indigenous students forced to attend residential schools — including those who never made it home.

The day officially honours residential school survivors and Indigenous cultures as steps toward reconciliation.The federal government designated Sept. 30 a federal holiday in 2021 as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended in its 94 calls to action. It’s also known as Orange Shirt Day. 

As a national commemorative gathering began on Parliament Hill on Saturday afternoon, Algonquin Anishnaabe Elder Claudette Commanda urged a crowd awash in orange to remember children affected by residential schooling. “Without love, there’s no healing,” she told the crowd, her voice breaking. “Let us show that love to the survivors.”

Men play a drum.
Chief Junior Gould, centre, leads a drum circle during the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation ceremony in Charlottetown on Saturday. (Nathan Rochford/The Canadian Press)

Phyllis Webstad, a survivor whose orange shirt was taken from her on her first day at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School near Williams Lake, B.C., started a grassroots campaignto raise awareness about residential schools and spread the message that every child matters. The orange shirt campaign is now in its 10th year.

Events are happening from coast to coast to coast on Saturday. In Hamilton, Ont., people gathered in Gage Park on Friday and Saturday. “I’m proud that we’re able to speak for the ones who aren’t here, tell their stories and honour them,” Ashley Masters, who works with the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre (HRIC), told CBC Hamilton on Friday. “It’s gonna be a good day and good medicine.”

People march while holding signs and chanting.
People take part in a march on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Montreal. (/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In Montreal, hundreds of people in dressed in orange gathered near George-Étienne Monument in Mount-Royal Park for a march. Ann Deer, a board member with Resilience Montreal, a day shelter located in downtown Montreal, urged the city to “step up” and provide additional support for Indigenous communities. 

She described National Truth and Reconciliation Day as “one of those few days that all Indigenous people get to be seen as human.”

A man dances.
Events are being held across Canada to commemorate National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Saturday. Here, an Indigenous dancer performs during ceremonies in Calgary. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press) (1 of 13)

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In Winnipeg, hundreds of people participated in a healing walk from The Forks to Canada Life Centre before a powwow. The events were hosted by the Wa-Say Healing Centre.  

‘We don’t want it to become just another day off’

“In order to be able to move forward with truth and reconciliation and healing our country we need to be able to acknowledge what has happened in the past, heal from it and be able to move forward with open hearts and lots of love for each other,” said participant Laura Pott.

A woman holds her hand over her heart.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek pauses after her speech during the Truth and Reconciliation Day ceremonies in Calgary on Saturday. (Todd Korol/The Canadian Press)

The City of Calgary announced Saturday that it will collaborate with the Fort Calgary Preservation Society to establish a permanent Indian Residential School Memorial at Fort Calgary to honour children who attended residential schools. “As we move along a path that includes both truth and reconciliation, our actions must come from the heart and reflect a commitment to do better into the future,” said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“This permanent memorial will be a space to honour residential school survivors, their families and the thousands of children who never returned. It will be a reflective space to mourn individually and collectively, and ensure that our shared history, no matter how painful, is not forgotten.”

In Edmonton, the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society is hosting in-person events, along a virtual panel discussion about allyship. Executive director Cheryl Whiskeyjack told CBC Edmonton that many people want to participate in reconciliation but don’t know where to start.

“We don’t want it to become just another day off or another long weekend or anything like that,” Whiskeyjack said.  “The risk we run if we just take that day off is some people will use it for that reflection, but if there’s nothing to reflect on, it then just becomes another long weekend for folks.”

This is the first year the day is being recognized as a statutory holiday in British Columbia. 

Ginger Gosnell-Myers, a decolonization and urban Indigenous planning fellow at Simon Fraser University, said for Indigenous people, Sept. 30 can be a day for healing, connecting to culture and honouring loved ones. “[We need] to ensure that we do get this day right, that we are hearing from Indigenous Peoples what Indigenous Peoples need,” she told Jodie Martinson, guest host of CBC’s The Early Edition.

For those who aren’t Indigenous, Gosnell-Myers said the day could be spent learning about Indigenous cultures and histories.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour service at 1-866-925-4419.

Mental health counselling and crisis support is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Hope for Wellness hotline at 1-855-242-3310 or by online chat.