Ombudsman’s message for Truth and Reconciliation Day, September 30, 2021
Today is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is a day to remember and commemorate the thousands of Indigenous children who were taken away from their communities and forced to attend residential schools – and the many who never returned home.
(TORONTO, September 29, 2021) Today is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is a day to remember and commemorate the thousands of Indigenous children who were taken away from their communities and forced to attend residential schools – and the many who never returned home.
Since 2013, September 30 has been, and will continue to also be known as, Orange Shirt Day. The day originated with the story of one former student, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, who had her new orange shirt taken away from on her first day at the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia when she was just six years old. Orange Shirt Day has since opened the door to a global conversation on all aspects of residential schools.
This year, we bore witness to an especially painful reminder of Canada’s residential school system and its dark legacy with the discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked graves across the country.
It is important that as a province, and as a nation, we continue to recognize the tragic effects of residential schools on the Indigenous children who attended those schools, and on the survivors who continue to live with those experiences.
As a society, we must not let them out of our collective thoughts and sights, and we must remain committed to educating ourselves about the history of Indigenous peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools (Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #57).
I ask Ontarians to join me and my colleagues in ensuring we continue to reflect on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, specifically around its work on “Missing Children and Unmarked Burials.”
It is also not lost on our Office, given our important role in helping children and youth in care, that Indigenous children continue to be overrepresented in the child welfare system.
We must remind ourselves that reconciliation begins with truth-telling – and confronting often difficult and painful truths – to understand our past, and what concrete actions must go into shaping the future.
As Ontario’s Ombudsman, I and my team stand in solidarity with all First Nation, Inuit and Métis peoples. This week, we all participated in educational sessions on Truth and Reconciliation, part of our ongoing learning in Indigenous cultural safety. On September 30, to reinforce our commitment to truth and reconciliation, to provide an opportunity for employees to learn about and reflect on the history of residential schools, and to honour the lives lost, we will close our Office in order to observe the day of commemoration and reflection.
Our thoughts remain with all those affected by residential schools.
If you require support, the Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available for 24-hour assistance for former residential school survivors in need of emotional support or crisis referral: 1-866-925-4419.