The federal government has tabled legislation to make September 30 – Orange Shirt Day – a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
In a release, the federal government said Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, announced an important step in implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #80 by introducing Bill C-5.
“This bill seeks to establish a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for federally regulated workers that will be observed as a statutory holiday on September 30,” the release said.
Subject to this legislation receiving Royal Assent, “the new national day will honour survivors, their families and communities.”
It will also ensure that “public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process,” the statment added.
“We have taken steps to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Actions,” said Guilbeault. “However, we recognize that there is still much work to do as a country to make progress on our shared path of reconciliation.”
By establishing a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, “we will have a day every year to reflect and honour the survivors of residential schools, ensuring they are never forgotten,” he added.
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Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) Residential School (1891-1981) Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in May 2013. This project was the vision of Esketemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, who is a former student himself. It brought together former students and their families from the Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in, Southern Dakelh and St’at’imc Nations along with the Cariboo Regional District, the Mayors and municipalities, School Districts and civic organizations in the Cariboo Region.
The events were designed to commemorate the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.
Chief Justice Murray Sinclair challenged all of the participants to keep the reconciliation process alive, as a result of the realization that every former student had similar stories.
Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of this project. As spokesperson for the reunion group leading up to the events, former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad told her story of her first day at a residential school when her shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken from her as a six-year old girl.
The date was chosen because it aligns with the time of year children were taken from their homes and brought to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.
It is an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.
“On Orange Shirt Day, we honour the survivors who had their language, culture, and families stolen from them – and we remember those whose lives were cut far too short,” Trudeau tweeted.