After the Orange Wave

It’s the day after the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. A day that came at the request of Indian residential school survivors through the Commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission via Call to Action #80. Today marks the last day of Truth and Reconciliation Week that included daily programming to classrooms across the country thanks to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

Part of me is happy; grateful that APTN & CBC offered programming to all Canadians in recognition of the day. Part of me is sad; the stories and experiences are hard to listen to and absorb. But mostly I am just pissed off.

My anger started to build earlier this year and I have been struggling with how to process it in a good way. With nearly two decades of professional work towards reconciliation under my belt, the recognition I thought I was looking for from broader Canadian society arrived this spring but it didn’t feel good.

215 will forever be etched in the history books as the number that made Canadians see the light about the tragedy of residential school. After this headline from Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, the white tears flooded my social media feed, with outcries for action and change. Isn’t this what I had been hoping for? Whatever it took to get us here, shouldn’t I be glad to finally have validation of the pain in my community? 

In the first few weeks after, I wasn’t sure how to feel. When the month of June was followed by a call not to celebrate July 1st, I saw hope. The weeks and months that followed squashed that hope as more burial sites were identified and the tally grew past 6000 without any more outcry. The tragedy was all but forgotten.

Mid-September, the story of residential schools and the work of truth and reconciliation began to once again pick up steam. My facebook feed was filled with people scrambling to find orange shirts for themselves and their kids. Indigenous makers were pleading with people to buy from them while major retail chains couldn’t keep orange shirts on the shelves. Is this what reconciliation is supposed to look like? No, this is bullshit.

I’m angry that all the responses to reconciliation seem to be incredibly performative and void of any real hope for change. It’s a lot of thoughts and prayers rather than concrete action and long term commitment. Even my own employer made this choice in their public messaging and internal communications about the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It’s upsetting, it’s disappointing, and it’s leaving me feeling deflated and hopeless. I don’t like feeling like my efforts mean nothing and that’s what makes me the most angry.

Orange Shirt Day has been recognized since 2013. I have owned a dedicated orange shirt, designed by an Indigenous artist, purchased from an Indigenous owned business since 2015. For everyone who is eight years late to the party, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. For those of you who were shocked by the number 215, you haven’t done your homework. You didn’t earn the right to wear orange on September 30th alongside survivors and intergenerational survivors like me.

Along with the gift of a new federally recognized national holiday, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also gave Canadians an in-depth understanding of the Indian Residential School System. Because of the research that took place through the TRC, I can throw a lot of numbers at you that should be more heartbreaking than 215.

When the TRC’s final report was released in 2015, the Commission had confirmed more than 4000 deaths had occured at the schools and estimated the number to be more than 6000. The TRC dedicated an entire volume of it’s 10-volume report to “Missing Children and Unmarked Burials”. The information has been available to Canadians for at least six years now.

What about 80,000? The number of residential school survivors that were alive to be party to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007. Or how about 150,000? The estimated number of Indigenous children that were taken from their families and communities to become wards of the state through the Indian Residential School System. Or the fact that in the present day, more Indigenous kids are apprehended into the child welfare system than were at the height of the residential school system.

You have a lot of work to do to earn your right to grieve alongside me on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. And that work starts today. Prove to us Indigenous folks who have lived with centuries of grief at the hands of the colonizers that you have done your homework. Learn our truth, listen to our stories, understand our pain. Don’t donate a day’s pay to a local Indigenous agency and put away your orange shirt until next September. Use the next 365 days to begin the real work of reconciliation.

I can get you started with a few suggestions:

The learning and unlearning that is required for reconciliation to even be possible is a never ending journey. I am still learning the truth, challenging the colonial systems I operate in, and finding ways each day to decolonize my practices. It doesn’t come easily and it has to be intentional. Truth and reconciliation are choices that I aim to make every day.

I am not the reconciliation police and I can’t tell you the right way to ‘do reconciliation’. I can tell you there is a wrong way. Pretending. Performing. Trying to jump to reconciliation without knowing the truth.

Next year, on the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I hope that every orange shirt is over the shoulders of a true ally doing the hard work of reconciliation based in truth. You all have the next year to restore my faith in white allyship and belief that reconciliation is possible. Help me to overcome this anger and turn it back into a drive for change. 

The work of reconciliation requires us all. Today. Tomorrow. And each day after that.

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