Third Annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Ida Thompson wearing an orange shirt with a design by her late uncle Art Thompson.
[ ◉¯] Ida Thompson
Saturday, September 30, 2023, marks the third federally recognized National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR) in Canada. First honoured 10 years ago as Orange Shirt Day, September 30 is now an official day of remembrance in acknowledgement of Canada’s colonial history of residential schools.
Little progress has been made to address and reconcile our colonial history in Canada. Developing the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has been a start in this progress, as have the 94 calls to action introduced in 2015 as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report; however, there is still much room for improvement in the process of reconciliation, and it is very important that everyone plays their role.
For myself, as a non-Indigenous woman, this role has been the constant learning from and support of Indigenous Peoples in my community. I am in my final year of my studies at VIU on the traditional and unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, where I will complete my minor in Indigenous/Xwulmuxw studies. Throughout my education, I have learned so much about Indigeneity, strength, and resilience from my peers and professors.
An integral part of this learning process has been listening to my Indigenous colleagues and their knowledge. Before writing this piece, I met with two classmates, Rustee George Walker Watts and Ida Thompson, to discuss what NDTR means to them as Indigenous people and how non-Indigenous people can be strong allies.
Watts and Thompson are both intergenerational survivors of the residential school system. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Alberni Indian Residential School, which their respective parents attended.
Though the reality of NDTR is to recognize stories of intergenerational trauma, to Watts and Thompson, the national holiday is an opportunity for Indigenous Peoples to celebrate their strength, resilience, and “survivance” while making space for the grief that many survivors face.
Watts told me that, for him, “It is a day to spend with my community, and possibly help others. We get to show some culture.”
For non-Indigenous people, NDTR is an opportunity to take in why we have the day at all and recognize our colonial history.
“It is not about pity or guilt,” Thompson told me, “it’s about recognizing [our colonial history] and trying to make changes.”
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation should focus on the strength and resilience that Indigenous Peoples have embodied for generations in our colonial system.
However, it is also much more than that. It must be understood that we still live in a colonial system where Indigenous people in Canada are continually marginalized and oppressed. Nationwide, there are Indigenous communities with no access to healthcare, inadequate drinking water, serious homelessness and housing issues—colonialism is not just a thing of the past.
For non-Indigenous people, particularly as students who will eventually work amidst these failing systems, we must recognize this and show up to try to make a change.
“It’s not about putting your orange shirt on for one day out of 365 days, it’s about continually showing up the other 364,” Thompson explained. “As an Indigenous woman, I can’t just take my orange shirt off. It’s my identity.”
In a world where social media and optics are considered integral to our existence, it is important not to fall into this trap as an ally. Don’t just throw on an orange shirt from the back of your closet, give sorrowful looks to Indigenous people, and post an Instagram story—that’s not actual allyship. People wanting to convey real support must use the day for actual reflection: think about where we are as a nation and where we must work together to go.
Beyond National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, there are many opportunities for allies to show their support on the other 364 days of the year.
“It’s all about partnerships and engagement,” Watts told me.
Supporting Indigenous Peoples and engaging with their communities requires year-round openness, compassion, and learning. Take an Indigenous studies course, attend community events, immerse yourselves in the culture (and delicious food); acknowledge the heaviness, but drop the “white saviour” guilt, and whenever possible, laugh. Always listen, learn, and promote change—that is actual allyship.
Thompson’s mother, age 15, at Alberni Indian Residential School.
Courtesy Of: Ida Thompson
Thompson’s father (front row, third from right) at Alberni Indian Residential School.
Courtesy Of: Ida Thompson
As an Indigenous woman, I can’t just take my orange shirt off. It’s my identity.
— Ida Thompson
Interested readers will find relevant events on campus to commemorate NDTR, where you can show up and give your support to Snuneymuxw Peoples, as well as all Indigenous Peoples in our nation.
Sam is a fourth-year Criminology student minoring in Indigenous Studies. She is also working towards a certificate in Legal Studies and plans to pursue a law degree upon graduation. She loves learning and living the ‘student life’ and is looking forward to writing for The Navigator this year.