In June 2021, the Government of Canada passed legislation to make September 30th a federal statutory holiday, called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to commemorate and reflect on the tragic history and ongoing legacy of residential schools in Canada. The painful legacy of these schools has had lasting impacts on residential school survivors and their families.
There were 140 federally run Indian Residential Schools that operated in Canada from 1831 to 1998. The last school was shut only 23 years ago. The survivors advocated for recognition and reparations and demanded accountability for the lasting effects of the harm caused. These efforts resulted in:
- The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
- Apologies by the government
- The establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- The creation of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
Truth and Reconciliation Commission and its call to actions
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed with a mandate to inform all Canadians about what happened in residential schools. The commission documented the truth of Survivors, their families, communities and anyone personally affected by the residential school experience. The holiday was one among the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The other calls to action covered a wide range of areas including
- Child welfare
- Language and culture
“We have taken steps to address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Actions. However, we recognize that there is still much work to do as a country to make progress on our shared path of reconciliation. This includes acknowledging the harm residential schools have done to Indigenous Peoples. 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.”
—The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage
Orange Shirt day
Orange Shirt Day is an unofficial day that falls on September 30, coinciding with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day has been observed in memory of a then-six-year-old Phyllis Webstad, whose orange shirt was taken away on her first day at a residential school in 1973.
Observing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation day provides an opportunity to bring awareness to the painful legacy of the residential school system. Here are few things you can do:
- Taking part in events and activities
- Wear orange as a symbol of remembrance
- Reading the Truth and Reconciliation report
- Taking a moment for quiet reflection
- Learn more about the past and ongoing indigenous issues
“A National Day for Truth and Reconciliation would provide federally regulated workers with the opportunity to participate in educational and commemorative activities. This will ensure that the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
—The Honourable Filomena Tassi, Minister of Labour
Advice from a survivor
Geraldine Shingoose is a residential school survivor and for the past six years, this warrior has been sharing her truths. She suggests that every Canadian take a moment of silence at 2:15 p.m., and show small gestures such as displaying an orange shirt on the window to have a powerful impact.
Is it a holiday?
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a designated paid holiday for employees in the federal public service. However, not all provinces and territories have declared it a statutory holiday. In provinces where September 30 is not a holiday, it is mostly up to the employers whether to grant the day off. Manitoba, Nova Scotia and PEI recognize the day as a holiday, closing schools and government offices. September 30 is a government holiday and not a statutory holiday in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The provincial government in British Columbia has said that this will be a commemorative day and not a statutory holiday.
Mental health supports
1-866-925-4419 – Former Residential School students can call this number for emotional crisis referral services and information on other health supports from the Government of Canada.
1-855-242-3310 – Indigenous peoples across Canada can go to The Hope for Wellness Help Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for counselling and crisis intervention.
“By recognizing a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, all Canadians will be able to reflect, learn, grieve and take collective action towards reconciliation. Today, we are taking another important step forward as we walk along this shared path together.”
— The Honourable Daniel Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs