Indigenous leaders call on Canadians to 'own your own truth' on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Hundreds gathered at a ceremony marking the day on Parliament Hill
Canadians are being called to "own your own truth" when it comes to the country's history and treatment of Indigenous people on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The day was made a federal statutory holiday earlier this year, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended in its 94 calls to action. It will be held annually on Sept. 30.
It honours the children who died while being forced to attend residential school and the survivors, families and communities still affected by the system's legacy.
Hundreds gathered at a ceremony held on Parliament Hill to mark the day — one of many held across the country.
Wakerakatste Louise McDonald Herne, a condoled Bear Clan Mother for the Mohawk Nation Council, called on Canadians to "know the history of this country and the corruption it was built upon."
"You need to correct the wrongs and you have to own your own truth," she said.
Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda echoed Herne's call, saying the discovery of unmarked graves near former residential schools sites has awakened the country to its history.
"Two-hundred and fifteen little voices woke the country, 215 voices spoke to the world," Commanda said in reference to the 215 unmarked graves that were first discovered near a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C., this spring. That number was later revised down to 200, however hundreds more graves have been found since near other former school sites.
Commanda called on Canadians to open their hearts and listen to the truth in order to move forward with reconciliation.
"Take this beautiful gift we are offering you; learn, listen and we will walk together to turn this country into a beautiful country for all our children," she said while fighting back tears.
At a separate ceremony at the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc Nation, near the Kamloops residential school where the initial discovery of 200 unmarked graves was made, Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald said acknowledging the past is only a first step toward reconciliation.
"True reconciliation is about learning, sharing and growing as a country," she said.
"The more we know about where we come from, and our shared history and our responsibilities, the better we can address current challenges and find our healing path forward together."
In Winnipeg, the city was a sea of orange as thousands of people marched to the Manitoba Legislature. A sunrise ceremony also took place at The Forks, the national historic site where where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet and which has served as a gathering spot for 6,000 years.
Hundreds of people in Montreal attended a commemorative ceremony before taking part in a march. And in Quebec City, the provincial legislature, the National Assembly, was lit up in orange on Thursday evening.
Quebec Premier François Legault continued to resist calls, including from the opposition, to make the day a statutory holiday, saying it would be too "costly."
"Listen, all provinces have a challenge to be competitive and productive. In Quebec, when we look at the number of days, the number of hours worked in a year, we have work to do. So, I think there are many other ways to mark, to commemorate what happened with the residential schools," he said.
British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are among the provinces that have followed the federal government's lead and made the day a statutory holiday. Ontario and New Brunswick, like Quebec, have not.
Queen says she's joining Canadians in reflection
Queen Elizabeth released a statement Thursday acknowledging "the work that remains to heal and to continue to build an inclusive society."
"I join with all Canadians on this first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to reflect on the painful history that Indigenous peoples endured in residential schools in Canada," the Queen's statement said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also released a statement encouraging Canadians to reflect on the impacts and legacy of residential schools, specifically pointing to the hundreds of unmarked graves near former school sites that have been discovered this year.
"The tragic locating of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country has reminded us of not only the impacts of colonialism and the harsh realities of our collective past, but also the work that is paramount to advancing reconciliation in Canada," the statement said.
On Thursday afternoon, Trudeau's office confirmed he had travelled to Tofino, B.C. with his family.
A spokesperson for the prime minister told CBC News that Trudeau is "spending time in Tofino with family for a few days" but noted his participation in a ceremony the night before marking the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The Prime Minister's Office later told CBC News that Trudeau spent several hours Thursday on the phone speaking to residential school survivors "across the country."
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole released a statement saying more work still needs to be done to address the "devastating and harmful effects" of the residential school system.
"In order for Canada to reach its full potential as a nation, reconciliation must be central to these efforts. This starts with public commemoration, education and conversations about the painful and lasting impacts of residential schools," he said in his statement.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took part in a truth and reconciliation march in Vancouver.
Gov. Gen. Mary May Simon, the first Indigenous person to sit in that role, said today is an opportunity for Canadians to face "uncomfortable truths."
"As we strive to acknowledge the horrors of the past, the suffering inflicted on Indigenous peoples, let us all stand side-by-side with grace and humility, and work together to build a better future for all," she said in a statement.
Sept. 30 is also Orange Shirt Day, which remembers the story of Phyllis Webstad, a former residential school student who had her orange shirt taken away on her first day at residential school.
Across the country, people are encouraged to wear orange to spread awareness, support an Indigenous-run business or organization if they can, and take time to learn and reflect.