September 30 marked the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to honour the survivors of residential schools and the children lost, as well as to commemorate the tragic and long-lasting impact these institutions have had on Indigenous families and communities.
This day relates to the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) woman from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. On her first day of school, she arrived dressed in a new orange shirt, which was quickly taken from her. This act was symbolic of the stripping away of culture, freedom, and self-esteem experienced by so many Indigenous children over generations, much of which took place in the 140 Indian Residential Schools which operated in Canada, the last of which didn’t close until 1998.
The painful discovery of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School site has made this one of the most difficult and heartbreaking years in our country, and amidst COVID and a devastating wildfire season, this has been a year full of many challenges. We must support First Nations as they continue to search the other residential schools across Canada and unearth the sad truth hidden from Canadians for so long.
Our region is blessed to be home to so many incredible First Nations communities. Their traditional and local knowledge has helped us during this wildfire season, and they should be included in the wildfire recovery and future land and fire management. First Nations must also be included as equal partners in our policy and economic development as we work toward meaningful and lasting reconciliation.
I encourage you to remember that we all must make efforts towards reconciliation, not just one day a year, but every day.