How Calgarians can commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Between varying levels of government observance, what is important for each of us to consider on Sept. 30?

By Noel Harper | September 29, 2021 |5:00 am

It's been moved since, but there was a large memorial on the steps of City Hall to mourn and remember those found in unmarked graves at various former residential schools.

Photo: Shutterstock

It’s been a significant day for Indigenous communities since 2013 but now many are hoping that what was once celebrated as Orange Shirt Day will mean so much more to people across the country.

Thursday, Sept. 30 marks the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation federal statutory holiday, and to some, perhaps, it might feel like an extra day off to watch Netflix or catch up with friends.

However, many groups and the federal government itself hope people will see how significant this day is for Indigenous communities and reflect upon the atrocities many in those communities are mourning.

This year, the 80th call to action set forth by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was fulfilled by the federal government, recognizing the grassroots movement of Orange Shirt Day.

The move is largely in response to the tragic discoveries of the past few months across Canada, involving unmarked graves at the grounds of former residential schools.

“We call upon the federal government… to honour survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process,” the call reads in part.

While the provincial government isn’t officially recognizing the day as a stat holiday, the City of Calgary plans to, and is giving city employees the day off and putting on a number of events, including an Orange Shirt Day ceremony at Fort Calgary and illuminating various landmarks in orange.

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Indigenizing the future of Calgary

Calgary’s post-secondaries will play a significant role in marking the day. For example, the University of Calgary (U of C) will be closing its operations and holding a series of events led by Elders and members of its Indigenous Engagement Team.

The Indigenous Law Students Association (ILSA) at the U of C’s Faculty of Law “is planning to spread awareness on our social media platforms by providing ideas for community members to get involved and by asking students and Calgarians what they are doing to… advance truth and reconciliation,” they wrote in an email to Calgary Citizen.

Mount Royal University, meanwhile, will not be closing on Sept. 30 and is in the midst of a two-week series of activities called “Journey to Indigenization.” These events will mark this day as well as Sisters in Spirit Day, observed on Oct. 4. They encourage staff and students to wear orange in a show of support.

ILSA says that Calgarians should ponder the statement that “there is no reconciliation without truth,” and recommends reading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Final Report.

“Find the calls to action that you can implement today and start making changes.”

Observing personally

Given the number of events happening throughout the city to mark the day, some local groups who work with Indigenous communities are taking a step back to honour what it represents.

Katelyn Lucas, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary and member of the Red River Métis Settlement, says the organization, aimed at criminal justice reform for vulnerable populations, will be taking the day off “to give all members of our staff the ability to engage with the various activities in their communities.”

“For Indigenous staff,” Lucas says, “it is a day of healing to grieve and honour their family members lost in this system… we felt it was more important to acknowledge this day and to leave it to staff how they wanted to honour the day.”

Lucas is disappointed that just a few provinces and territories are recognizing the day as a stat holiday with only federally regulated businesses and employees having the day off because she says it is one of the simplest acts one can take towards acknowledgement.

A sad reality is that not everyone accepts this day

“Unfortunately, it has been really shocking to see so many Calgarians and Albertans express a lot of negatives about this day… some of the comments I have seen exhibit how deeply embedded the systemic discrimination [is],” she says.

“If there is to be reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, then this needs to be acknowledged by all Canadians… however, reconciliation should be led by Indigenous communities and peoples in order for it to be genuine.”

All in all, it is important that Thursday not simply pass Calgarians by as a holiday without any meaning behind it.

“Cynics (suggest) most people will just see it as another day off work,” ILSA has observed. “That may be the case, not unlike Remembrance Day, but as the holiday gains traction we believe that our allies have been and will continue to work to advance truth and reconciliation… on every day of the year.”

Lucas adds, “Calgarians should take this time to understand and reflect upon the history related to the Indigenous Peoples in their community.”

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Noel Harper

Noel Harper is a contributor at Calgary Citizen.

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