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National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee has provided our firm with information on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, otherwise known as Orange Shirt Day.

Prior to its recognition as a federal holiday, Orange Shirt Day began as a grassroots initiative by Phyllis Jack Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. Phyllis shared her story as a residential school survivor of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School near Williams Lake, British Columbia.  She recalled her first day of school, where she was stripped of her belongings, including an orange shirt gifted to her by her grandmother.

The orange shirt became a symbol of the federal government’s systematic attempt to force First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children to assimilate into colonial culture and society[1].

The impact and legacy of the residential school system in Canada has been described as a cultural genocide. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were not only forced to abandon their cultural practices, but experienced physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, malnutrition, disease, neglect, and high mortality rates. Some died as a direct result of these conditions, others by suicide or in an attempt to escape the schools.

In 2007, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in response to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest settlement agreement in Canadian history. In 2015, the TRC released its final report outlining the historical record of the residential school system and 94 Calls to Action to further advance reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples[2].

It has been estimated that more than 150,000 children passed through the residential school system, which operated from the late 1880’s to 1996.  The TRC estimates that at least 4,000 to 6,000 students died in residential schools. However, the true number is still unknown[3].

In June 2021, the Government of Canada passed Bill C-5 to name September 30th as a federal holiday to commemorate the tragic legacy of residential schools in Canada and to honour the children who never returned home, the survivors, and their families and communities. This was in response to one of TRC’s calls to action (Call to Action #80).

13 of these Calls to Action have been completed, while 32 calls are underway and a further 31 calls have projects proposed.[4] The complete list of the 94 Calls to Action can be found here.