We all have a responsibility for Reconciliation

To mark the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as well as Orange Shirt Day on September 30, Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, issues the following statement:

On the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we acknowledge and commemorate the devastating legacy of residential schools, where tens of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families and forcibly separated from their language and culture. Many never returned home.

This day of reflection is a step towards ensuring that every person in Canada knows the truth about our history. Reconciliation must involve teaching everyone about the atrocities that took place in residential schools. It is our past. It is our present. It is our shame.

The recent discoveries of unmarked, mass graves containing the remains of Indigenous children who attended residential schools have re-opened painful wounds for many survivors and Indigenous communities across Canada. They have long carried the pain and grief from firsthand knowledge of what happened to these children. It is long past time for all non-Indigenous people in Canada to take on our share of this knowledge, and the resulting responsibility.

This day would not be possible without the legacy and leadership of Orange Shirt Day, an Indigenous-led movement to remember residential schools, honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and commit to the process of reconciliation. 

Orange Shirt Day tells the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation. At six years old, she excitedly attended her first day of residential school in a shiny, orange shirt that she had picked out with her grandmother. As soon as she arrived, her shirt and clothing were stripped from her and never given back. She never wore the orange shirt again. 

Phyllis’s story has become a symbol for how Indigenous children were stripped of their culture, families, and language. People across Canada now wear orange on September 30 in recognition of the harm the residential school system inflicted on Indigenous people and their communities.

However, Phyllis’s experience is also a testament to how one person’s story can make a difference. How one person can inspire action. How we can stand together to collectively send a message that Indigenous children matter.

I urge non-Indigenous people in Canada to take an active role in sharing the responsibility of reconciliation. We must ensure that every person in Canada understands what reconciliation is about. Everyone must understand how the atrocities of our past still linger today. We must teach our children about how Indigenous people in this country have been and continue to be treated. And we must act to remedy the ongoing effects of decades of systemic racism, colonialism, and erasure that Indigenous Peoples have endured.

In the spirit of reconciliation, we must walk forward together towards a future where Indigenous human rights, including the right to self-determination, languages, cultures, and traditions and laws, are recognized, valued, respected and celebrated by our children and their children.

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