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The first National Day for Truth: Canada remembers residential schools

TORONTO – Songs, drums, speeches, dances. But also painful testimonies and tears. For the first time in its history, Canada celebrated The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation yesterday. A day, that of yesterday, established by Ottawa last June 3 to commemorate the tragic and painful history of residential schools, to remember the dead children and those who survived, their families and communities. 

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 6,000 children lost their lives in these schools, although according to many, the number could be much higher: 15,000.

Ontario did not observe the day as a holiday in the province but yesterday Prime Minister Doug Ford attended one of several ceremonies in Toronto: “The day is an opportunity to reflect, strengthen relations with indigenous peoples and play an active role in reconciliation,” he said.

In addition to Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Quebec have chosen not to make September 30 a day of vacation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted yesterday that “this day should be a day of reflection to honor the survivors of residential schools, their families and those children who have never returned home” and that “together, we must continue to know the role of residential schools and the intergenerational trauma they have caused. It is only by facing these truths and repairing these wrongs that we, in collaboration with indigenous peoples, can move towards a better future.”

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole also issued a statement on Facebook, encouraging Canadians to take part in public commemorations, for the “painful and lasting impacts of residential schools.” “For Canada to reach its full potential as a nation, reconciliation must be at the heart of these efforts,” he wrote. The NDP leader Jagmeet Singh reiterated “the commitment to fight alongside indigenous communities.” “This is the result of the hard work of many indigenous activists and supporters. I am particularly grateful to MP Georgina Jolibois who first presented a bill to celebrate this day,” he said.

It was particularly passionate and moving the message of Governor General Mary May Simon, Inuk on her mother’s side, who recalled her childhood spent in an Inuit village in northern Quebec. “Other children were torn from their homes, separated from their families and sent to residential schools where they were not allowed to speak an indigenous language or honor their culture,” he said.

Simon recalled “families where the absence of children was a ‘palpable emptiness’. Unlike many of her peers, she – her father was not Aboriginal – was not’allowed’ to attend residential schools. “In the reserve I was a substitute, a much loved substitute, for mothers and fathers who desperately missed their children – she said – we all felt the pain of losing a part of our community”.

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