On Thursday, Sept. 30, Brock University will join communities from across the country by remembering generations of injustices that were all too often overlooked.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation provides an opportunity to recognize the multigenerational legacy of the residential school system in Canada, which saw more than 150,000 Indigenous children forced to attend schools away from their families, where various forms of abuse took place and many children did not survive.
Robyn Bourgeois, Brock’s Acting Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement, said the day will evoke various emotions within Indigenous Peoples.
“This first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a significant moment for Indigenous Peoples, but it will also be a hard day — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually — for many of us,” she said. “Every Indigenous person alive today has been impacted by Indian residential schools and, for many of us, this will be a day of grief and mourning. That being said, I also hope we acknowledge Indigenous resilience and survivance in the face of colonial genocide. This was a system meant to ‘kill the Indian’ and while we carry trauma, we also carry resilience because we’re still here.”
To ensure members of Brock’s Indigenous communities are able to spend the day in reflection with those they are closest with, a website has been created instead of hosting an in-person gathering.
Sandra Wong, Director of Aboriginal Student Services (AbSS), said the website dedicated to the day will include statements from various members of the Brock community and a ceremonial flag smudging video. The site will also serve as a catalyst for conversations among all members of the Brock community about the tragic legacy of residential schools.
“We want the website to allow everyone at Brock to see what this day means to them and how they would define that for themselves,” Wong said. “We hope it drives them to seek out further education and to talk with others about the truths of residential schools that were kept secret for generations.”
In addition to the website and the conversations it aims to start, the entire Brock community can demonstrate its solidarity and stand in mourning with Indigenous communities by wearing orange shirts and writing notes on orange pieces of paper in the Rankin Family Pavilion.
Though the day is being marked as a statutory holiday for the first time, Orange Shirt Day has been observed for years and has its origins in 1973, when Phyllis (Jack) Webstad was stripped of a new orange shirt purchased by her grandmother on her first day at the St. Joseph Mission residential school in Williams Lake, B.C., leaving her feeling worthless and insignificant.
Wong said wearing an orange shirt represented a link to the pain of the past and a vision for a better future.
“I wear the shirt so that I can show others that I am empathetic and I share those feelings of sorrow with my people,” she said. “I want our country to understand the injustice our people have faced and that we need to move forward in recognizing the truth together before we begin to discuss reconciliation.”
To increase awareness of the day, AbSS has partnered with the Brock University Students’ Union, Alumni and Development, Human Rights and Equity, and the Office of the Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement, and will be distributing more than 150 orange shirts to allies across campus.
Wong and her AbSS colleagues are hopeful any member of the Brock community wearing an orange shirt Sept. 30 will email a picture of themselves to Aboriginal Events Co-ordinator Cindy Biancaniello at email@example.com to be used on social media.
Bourgeois encouraged members of Brock’s non-Indigenous communities to participate in the day by furthering their own education through external resources.
“I encourage non-Indigenous folks to act in line with the two themes of the day: truth and reconciliation,” she said. “To explore truth, I encourage folks to read the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada and to attend events organized by local Indigenous groups. To explore reconciliation, I encourage people to consider the recommendations of the TRC and explore how they might actualize them in their own lives, whether at work and/or in their private life.”
In the days around the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Bourgeois urged the entire Brock community to hold space for their Indigenous colleagues.
“Please remember that this is a difficult day for many of us and, as such, we need support,” she said.
Along with that critical individual support, Bourgeois also stressed the University remains firmly committed to truth, reconciliation and decolonization as one of its strategic priorities.
“We have taken seriously the calls to action of the TRC and are working every day to pursue meaningful change that will positively impact Indigenous students, staff and faculty,” she said.
A new website featuring Brock’s virtual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation resources will launch next week, and can be accessed through brocku.ca/indigenous