From the Editor: As settlers, we have a responsibility to meaningfully reconcile with Indigenous communities

Sept. 30 is Orange Shirt Day, and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (Emilio Saenz-Saldaña)

Sept. 30 is Orange Shirt Day, and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (Emilio Saenz-Saldaña)

Warning: this article discusses details that may be triggering for some readers. 

I am a settler residing on the traditional territories of the Matsqui, Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo First Nations on Turtle Island, now Langley in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada. 

A land acknowledgement is just that: an acknowledgement of the stolen land our country is built on. It recognizes the traditional territory of Indigenous Peoples before settlers arrived. It’s to recognize that we, settlers, are on their land and to encourage thought about the past and what changes are needed in the present to further reconciliation. 

While land acknowledgements are important to practice, it is not a reason to dismiss meaningful action towards reconciliation. 

Reconciliation calls upon Canadians to recognize the ideas and structures that resulted in the creation of genocide against Indigneous communities. For example, residential schools, the occupation of heavily armed RCMP officers in Wet’suwet’en territory, the disproportionate number of Indigenous people in Canada’s prison system, and Indigneous children in our foster care system

Residential schools were church-run and government funded, designed for Indigenous children to erase their language and culture to assimilate them into settler society from 1831 to 1996. In 1894, the Indian Act was amended to authorize the government to remove an Indigenous child from their family if they felt the child was not cared for or educated (by settler standards). Children were removed from their families, forced to learn English and adopt customs of soon-to-be Canada’s white majority. Many children at the schools were physically, sexually, and psychologically abused. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established in 2008 by the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. It was an official body to uncover government wrongdoings in the past and how the result can be resolved. The TRC concluded in 2015, a few months after releasing their final report which included the 94 Calls to Action

The 94 Calls to Action are meant to advance the progress of Canadian reconciliation. The calls to action range from child welfare, education, health, justice, equity in the legal system, youth programs, museums, and release of reports on missing children and burial information. 

In the last six years since the report was released, as of July 26, only 13 projects have been completed, 32 are in progress, 30 projects have been proposed, and 19 are yet to start. 

Today, children are still being taken. Hundreds of Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit folks are missing or murdered — with many cases incomplete because of racist attitudes that exist in our systems. 

Canada lost its ability to hide from its past and ignore its present harms last year, when the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in an unmarked grave at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C. by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation. A month later, the Cowessess First Nation announced the discovery of 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school in Saskatchewan, and there are more

Orange Shirt Day has taken place on Sept. 30 for a long time, a grassroots campaign founded by Phyllis Webstad built out of her own experiences and those of other survivors. It’s an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the impacts of residential schools and the legacy it left behind. 

Sept. 30 was made a federal holiday last year, observed as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation “to honor survivors, their families and communities, and ensure public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process,” in accordance with action #80 of the TRC’s report. 

Canada was founded on genocide, there are children’s bodies buried in “school” grounds, hundreds of Indigenous people are missing, and there are Indigenous communities that still do not have clean drinking water

I’ve hardly touched the surface of Canada’s true history and the pain Canada has caused and continues to cause on people. We need to admit and acknowledge our wrongs if we are ever going to meaningfully reconcile. 

We, the settlers, carry the responsibility to reconcile, to change and grow, so that the present and future generations of Indigenous communities can heal, to end the assimilation of their people, and ensure this history does not repeat itself to any community or people on this land. 

A national 24-hour crisis line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected at 1-866-925-4419. A B.C.-based line is available day and night at 1-800-588-8717.