On National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Murray Sinclair challenges Canadians to be mindful year-round
'This important work of reconciliation is not a one-day affair,' former TRC chair says
On the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Canadians were challenged to commit to reconciliation year-round.
Murray Sinclair, the former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the day was initially envisioned to be a day for Canadians to reflect on the country's history and treatment of Indigenous people — and commit to do better for the rest of the year.
"This important work of reconciliation is not a one-day affair. As we say, it will take us several generations," he said at a national ceremony held in Ottawa on Friday afternoon.
"On Sept. 30 and beyond, we must resolve to stand with [survivors and their families], to have their backs — don't leave them to do this work alone," Sinclair said. "We need your help, we need your understanding and we need you to ensure that this is forever made a part of Canada's national memory."
Last year, Sept. 30 was made a federal statutory holiday in order to remember children who died while being forced to attend church-run and government-funded residential schools, those who survived the system and made it home, and the families and communities still affected by lasting trauma.
Sinclair said that pausing to reflect is "not a radical concept," noting that Canada does so every year for Remembrance Day and did so to honour the death of Queen Elizabeth earlier this month.
"On Sept. 30, I am simply asking you to extend the same courtesy that you are used to doing for others," he said.
Friday afternoon's ceremony included musical performances and testimonies from residential school survivors.
The crowd stood as a 50-metre-long memorial cloth bearing 4,100 names of children who did not return from residential schools was presented on the stage.
Métis survivor Laurie McDonald spoke of his experience in residential school as a two-spirited person.
"The church told us to put it under the carpet, in their hypocritical mind that was a sin," McDonald said.
"I had to go underground with that gift, but I am here," McDonald said. "I am Indigenous, but I'm also a two-spirited person and that is a gift, and I will continue because that is part of my healing."
'Every day is Sept. 30'
In Ottawa, the day started with an eagle feather ceremony on Parliament Hill in front of the Peace Tower, which included a traditional round dance that saw dozens of members from the crowd participate.
Anishinaabe (Algonquin) Elder Claudette Commanda spoke of how the day is a moment for Canadians to listen and reflect on their history.
"It's a day for you Canadians to listen, to learn, to understand, to have it in your heart and in your spirit to feel the beauty of Indigenous people, the strength and resilience of survivors, but to learn history," she said.
"Reflect on the truth, learn from the past, walk together in peace, understanding and healing. Walk together this journey called reconciliation," she said. "Everyday is Sept. 30."
The ceremony was followed by a walk to nearby LeBreton Flats Park, where attendees placed children's footwear on the ground to commemorate those who died in residential schools.
A year after spending the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on vacation in Tofino, B.C., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a sunrise ceremony in Niagara Falls, Ont., this morning.
Following the ceremony, Trudeau spoke with residential school survivors and later challenged Canadians to be more accepting of the stories of survivors during an address to the crowd.
"How many times do Indigenous peoples need to tell their stories of trauma, of loss, of pain, of grief, until we absorb those stories as non-Indigenous people and make them our own?" he said.
"They too are the story of Canada and therefore they too are the story of each of us."
'We are still here'
Speaking ahead of Trudeau, Haudenosaunee Grandmother Marie Jones noted that the day should also be a reminder that the effort of residential schools — the forced assimilation of Indigenous children — failed.
"As Indigenous people we are still here," she said, garnering applause from the crowd.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre attended a sunrise ceremony in Ottawa this morning.
"Today, we listen to the survivors, remember those — the children — we lost, and commit to continue walking the path of healing and reconciliation with Indigenous people," he tweeted following the ceremony.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who attended the ceremony on Parliament Hill, said he wanted to show his support for Indigenous communities.
"'[I'm] here to remember the children, to stand in solidarity, to remember the harms [caused by residential schools] and make it clear that we are here to fight for justice," he said.
Ceremonies were held across the country to reflect on the country's history and treatment of Indigenous people. All federal government buildings in Canada — including the Peace Tower in Ottawa — lowered their flags to half-mast from sunrise to sunset.
Sept. 30 is also Orange Shirt Day, which honours the story of Phyllis Webstad, a former residential school student who had her orange shirt taken away on her first day at a residential school. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation is encouraging Canadians to wear orange as an act of solidarity.
A sunrise ceremony kicked off the second full day of activities at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on Friday, celebrating Indigenous cultures, traditions and languages through workshops, presentations, stories, teachings, dance, film and music.
Dozens of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people gathered at dawn around a sacred fire outside city hall for the ceremony. There was a sage smudging ceremony and dried tobacco was passed around to those gathered to place in the fire as an offering.
In nearby Hamilton, Indigenous non-profit groups, beaders, residential school survivors, elders from nearby Six Nations and other community members gathered Friday morning for an event hosted by the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre.
Tiffany Silversmith, a youth from the area, opened the day by singing a song in the Cayuga language and calling for more action on reconciliation.
"[We need] to spread awareness of reconciliation, and turn that into reconcili-action, and make significant changes that will benefit all life and all people on Turtle Island," she said.
In the centre of Halifax's downtown, hundreds gathered to mark the day and hear from Acadia First Nation Chief Deborah Robinson, Mi'kmaw elder Alan Knockwood and Halifax's Indigenous adviser Cheryl Copage-Gehue.
Knockwood told the crowd at the city's Grand Parade that as the community comes together to reflect on Canada's legacy of colonialism, the children lost in the residential school system are "here in our hearts and they are with us here."
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools or by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 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 at www.hopeforwellness.ca.
With files from Ryan Jones and The Canadian Press