5 suggestions for things to do on Truth and Reconciliation Day Thursday
'People are thinking about the children because that's what it's about'
On Thursday, Sept. 30, Canadians will mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for the first time in history.
The federal government's recognition of the statutory holiday, which will also be formally acknowledged by Prince Edward Island, is an important milestone in the journey to mending the relationship between the country and its Indigenous people.
Darlene Bernard, chief of the Lennox Island First Nation in western P.E.I., says the day is first and foremost about sombre reflection.
Held around the time when Indigenous children would have been taken from their homes to residential schools each fall, the day will be observed to honour the victims and survivors of the schools, as well as to reflect on how their legacy has affected Indigenous communities.
"It's a recognition by the federal and provincial government that there is a colonial history here, that our children were stolen from us," Bernard said. "And now we have to agree that that happened, recognize that we've been hurt deeply and that now we have to work toward reconciliation."
On P.E.I., government offices and schools will be closed for the day. For Islanders who are looking to be supportive but aren't sure how, here are some ways Bernard suggests for respectfully observing Truth and Reconciliation Day.
One of the simplest ways to show some support for Indigenous people on Sept. 30 is to wear orange, Bernard said.
"I think we can create a sea of orange here on September 30 on Prince Edward Island," Bernard said. "That would show people that, you know, people are thinking about the children because that's what it's about."
Before being officially recognized by the federal government, the date was known as Orange Shirt Day.
People across the country wear orange shirts inspired by the story of Phyllis Jack Webstad, who on her first day at a residential school in Williams Lake, B.C., was stripped of the new orange shirt her grandmother bought for her.
Bernard said people can show their support by posting pictures on social media of them wearing orange shirts.
Participate in an event
With the COVID-19 pandemic still far from over, most public observances commemorating Sept. 30 and Treaty Day will be smaller-scale.
Held on Oct. 1 in Nova Scotia and P.E.I., Treaty Day celebrates the contributions of Mi'kmaq in the region and also marks the beginning of Mi'kmaq History Month.
"We've yet to have a really big celebration for Treaty Day because of COVID," Bernard said. "COVID is kind of keeping us a little bit quieter and a little bit smaller gatherings that are going on."
Doing something outdoors and then thinking about the Mi'kmaq and how we lived years ago would be good.— Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard
Some events will still be held, however.
The P.E.I. government will hold flag-lowering ceremony in Charlottetown. The event will be streamed live Thursday at noon on the government's Facebook page.
Government offices in Charlottetown will be lit up in orange in the evening.
Truth and Reconciliation Week is a virtual event organized by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation which will run from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1. It will provide historical workshops and activities, as well as cultural performances by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists.
People can register for the virtual event here.
Those attending any traditional ceremony should be respectful of the significance they hold for the Indigenous community.
"Ceremonies are big thing," Bernard said. "I don't even perform ceremonies. It's the elders that do.
"Are we sharing that? Yes, we are sharing that. When we have Mawio'mis, gatherings, this is when we teach and when we share ceremonies, when we share our knowledge and our language and all those kinds of things. Those are really important to the Mi'kmaq and I think it's important that all people start to look at those things and see the beauty of our culture."
Arts and media
Bernard said Sept. 30 is also a good time to support the work of Indigenous artisans and their traditional craft, such as quilling on birch bark and basket weaving.
"I found a lot of healing in that, because I felt that here is something that my ancestors did thousands of years ago and here I am today doing the same thing," she said.
"Through historical records and pictures of things that they've done, we can do [what they did] once we've learned the techniques. So we've done a lot of work to bring back that knowledge to our people, and we've had a lot of success in it. I think that that can be showcased because that's a good thing."
CBC will mark the event by sharing First Nations, Métis and Inuit perspectives and experiences from across the country. For the entire day, these stories will be broadcast across CBC TV, CBC News Network, CBC.ca, CBC Kids, CBC Radio One and CBC Music including a commercial-free primetime broadcast special, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Learn the history
Bernard said the holiday will be a perfect opportunity for Canadians to learn more about Indigenous history and culture.
"We have to take that time to be reflective of what we know, but also to take the time to learn more," she said.
To those looking to learn more about the history of the residential school system, the website for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has a collection of teaching resources for children.
If you know a Mi'kmaq person, reach out to that person.— Darlene Bernard
"There's that resource. But then right on P.E.I., we have L'nuey, which is our rights-based initiative, and over the last couple of years we've been rolling out a lot of information," Bernard said.
"I think on that day, you're going to see like there will be lots of things coming out through L'nuey and through the First Nations."
Much of the educational content and videos L'nuey has produced are also easily understood by children.
Bernard suggests since this is the first year the holiday will be officially commemorated, parents should probably explain to their children why they have a day "off."
"Tell them about it, why we're having it," she said.
"We can even go outside and, you know, get into the land and doing something outdoors and then thinking about the Mi'kmaq and how we lived years ago would be good."
P.E.I. poet laureate Julie Pellissier-Lush shared a list created by L'nuey historian Tammy MacDonald of five recommended reads for the holiday. Here's the list.
- The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. A young-adult novel set in a dystopian future which draws from the history of residential schools.
- This Place: 150 Years Retold. An anthology of graphic novels authored by Indigenous creators exploring the history of the last 150 years.
- Sugar Falls — A Residential School Story by David Alexander Robertson. A graphic novel inspired by the real-life story of a residential school survivor.
- Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. The illustrated memoir of an Inuit girl who attended a residential school. The book is aimed at younger children.
- Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga. A book written by an investigative journalist that looks at the story of seven Indigenous high school students who died in Thunder Bay, Ont.
Perhaps the most important thing to do on Sept. 30 — and every day, for that matter — is to be kind and show consideration to Indigenous communities who are hurting as they reflect on their history, Bernard said.
"[Be] just a little bit sensitive to the fact that we're all struggling here and the First Nations people across this country are grieving," Bernard said.
"We are in a mourning state, so just to be cognizant of that. But I still think that, you know, if you know a Mi'kmaq person, reach out to that person. If you have a good enough relationship, just check in, maybe that would be a good thing to do."