On behalf of our Board of Directors and Senior Management Team, we want to take the time to acknowledge that today is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Beyond Apology and Commemoration: Amplifying Indigenous Voices and Answering the Calls to Action
Since 2021, the discovery of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools has brought widespread attention to what many First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people already knew: thousands of Indigenous children perished and were harmed in the Canadian Indian Residential School System. The uncovering of the graves raised many questions about how a society takes responsibility for the suffering inflicted by its own institutions upon vulnerable children. The Canadian government responded by declaring September 30 a new federal holiday called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to commemorate those who died within these state- and church-run institutions. The date was chosen to coincide with the Indigenous-led Orange Shirt Day, which has been observed since 2013. Orange Shirt Day was established at the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion, which saw the participation of Secwépemc, Tŝilhqot’in, Southern Dakelh, and St’at’imc Nations. On this day, people are encouraged to remember and honour the lives lost, as well as work toward reconciliation.
This past July, Pope Francis travelled to Cree First Nation, Treaty Six territory (also known as Maskwacis, Alberta) to deliver an apology for members of the Catholic Church who participated in the harm perpetrated by residential schools. For some survivors, the apology offered closure. For others, the apology fell short of a full admission of responsibility and lacked a commitment to action. Cindy Blackstock, who is Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and a member of the Gixtan Nation, stated that “apologies to me are not about words. Most importantly, they’re about actions.” Blackstock observed that: “The Pope apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools. It was meaningful for some Residential School Survivors, and I am so grateful that it brought them some comfort. However, when victims must travel to Rome to ask for an apology, greater scrutiny is needed to ensure the apology delivers justice for the victims and is not just a proforma release of responsibility for the offender. As an Elder eloquently told the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996, “integrity is when words have meaning.”” ~ Cindy Blackstock. Blackstock published a post-apology To-Do List on concrete actions that should be taken by the Catholic Church to ensure that the apology is meaningful. These actions include rescinding the ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ which authorized the taking of Indigenous land by Europeans, as well as providing Indigenous entities with access to all residential school records.
In 2022, YMCAs in Canada have continued to reflect on the work that still needs to be done to address our collective responsibility to persist in our commitment toward reconciliation. On National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, our YMCA is honoured to share that as part of our reconciliation efforts, Y Canada is making a $38,896 donation to the Orange Shirt Society on behalf of our YMCA associations. This donation comes from the net proceeds of the sale of orange t-shirts, which were designed with the Orange Shirt Society to help continue to raise awareness of Orange Shirt Day and in recognition of the harmful legacy of the residential school system in Canada. On National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, established in 2021 to coincide with the Indigenous-led Orange Shirt Day, the YMCA recognizes and commemorates the harm that was done to Indigenous children in Canada who were sent away to residential schools; as well as the journey of healing that survivors and their families continue to embark upon. We remain dedicated to the ongoing process of reconciliation and to ensuring that we place a special and intentional focus on fostering our relationship with Indigenous Peoples and communities in Canada.
As a leading youth serving organization, on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which builds upon Orange Shirt Day, the YMCA reaffirms our goal of establishing strong and healthy communities where every child matters. We know that a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment is fundamental to children’s success and are committed to providing accessible programs and services that will help them thrive.
How to Take Action
- Attend a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event in Grey Bruce, as several members of our YMCA Senior Management are doing in Owen Sound
- Learn about and create awareness of the intergenerational individual, family, and community impact that residential schools have had on Indigenous People
- Learn how you can support the work of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
- Learn about how you or your organization can respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
- Wear an ORANGE SHIRT on September 30 to visibly show your support – a limited number of shirts can be purchased at our Health, Fitness & Aquatics Centre in Owen Sound
- Attend a related community event in your region
- Promote the concept that Every Child Matters
- Read the YMCAs in Canada Statement of Reconciliation, including our commitment to addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action
- Learn more from org, which includes resources for Teachers
- Learn about the history of residential schools in Canada
- Read P hyllis Webstad’s story in her own words
- Sign up to receive a digital version of Every Child Matters: Reconciliation through Education
- Share this CBC Kids resource for What is Orange Shirt Day?
- Attend and share information about the Every Child Matters: Reconciliation Through Education virtual event for youth grades 5-12 taking place on September 30
- Get a general overview of the work being done with reconciliation at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
- Find out more about Accountability in Our Lifetime: A Call to Honour the Rights of Indigenous Children and Youth
- Read an update on Canada’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action
- Watch YMCA Calgary’s Orange Shirt Day video
- Learn about The Road to Truth: The Pope’s Visit July 2022 by APTN
- Learn about how to approach Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers in your community
- Create a land acknowledgement for use when gathering with others
- Familiarize yourself with tobacco offering protocol for approaching Elders and Knowledge Keepers
- Experience stories from Indigenous cities throughout Canada
- Read the CCDI’s September 30, 2022 Commemoration Guide to learn how to respectfully commemorate Orange Shirt Day
- Read the YMCA Greater Toronto’s “Marking Orange Shirt Day 2022” blogpost
- Choose your path and next steps towards reconciliation
Sarah Cowley, Executive Director
YMCA of Owen Sound Grey Bruce