The first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation has come and gone. I donned my orange t-shirt. I read from my copy of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Summary published in 2015; something I try to do every day. I listened to speakers and admired the sea of people, from young to old, gathering locally dressed in orange, ready to listen, ready to learn, ready to identify where they might participate. Mostly, I searched for evidence that would feed my hope that we are moving in the right direction. I feared it would be just another day, marked as a holiday for some and that was the case in some municipalities/provinces, but there was a positive response for sure. We may have stumbled, the day may not have lived up to all the expectations heaped upon it, but it is a beginning, a new starting place. Murray Sinclair, of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said it was a day “like renewing our vow that we put into the treaties.” He reminded us that reconciliation includes each person in this country, regardless of our heritage, not only Indigenous people. We are all part of this process, play a role in reconciliation’s success and in creating a better future as we move forward, as we create strategies to care for the most vulnerable among us, helping to heal those suffering from the effects of intergenerational trauma and it begins with educating ourselves, of being informed, of hearing the truth. It requires us to demand of politicians who represent us, whom we elect, that they live up to their promises and responsibilities.
Each time I saw another person in an orange t-shirt I felt a bubble of hope rise in me. That may sound a bit ridiculous, bordering on the naïve, as if a particularly coloured t-shirt could ever change anything, but those individuals looked ahead, planned, and made the conscious decision to pull on their orange t-shirts when they were getting dressed that morning. It was an act of solidarity, of recognition, to honour those lost children, to acknowledge the generations of suffering, and to imagine a better future. It was a simple but meaningful act, a commitment. I wear my orange t-shirt most days. It comforts me, keeps me focused. It is my responsibility to educate myself about what was done and how I can play a role in changing the fate of so many children who have not been treated fairly in this country, who have done without basic services and care and access to education and to potable water.
I learned more about the orange shirt campaign itself, its creator Phyllis Webstad. Her story was a traumatic one, but one she purposely rewrote by engaging in change, by being a force of growth, of being a light to others. I listened to Natasha Reimer-Okemow who was placed in “care” at the age of one, to go on to live in twelve different homes, in four different schools, in five different towns. She is pursuing a law degree after having founded a peer support group called FOSTER UP that supports youth aging out of the foster care system in Manitoba. There are countless stories of Indigenous people creating opportunities for themselves, of making a difference, of building community, of changing the future. Indigenous people aren’t asking that history be rewritten, but rather that we learn from those atrocities, take responsibility for ignoring what was desperately needed, and that we all enter the conversation. I ask myself every day – What is it that I can do to create change. I don’t always have an answer, but I will keep asking the question.