On September 30, Canada celebrates the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for the first time. According to Inuit leaders, this is an important step in informing the country about the experiences of Indigenous Canadians.
“This day which is given to the Aboriginals of this country is very appreciated but it does not solve all our problems and the upheavals that the Inuit had to go through because someone else decided to come to our part of the world and take back our lives. », Declared Pita Aatami, president of the Makivik Corporation, the organization of the land claims of the Inuit in Quebec, during a telephone interview.
“We still have a lot of healing to do with our fellow Canadians. “
The creation of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation report.
Rebecca Kudloo, President of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, says the holiday is an important milestone in honoring residential school survivors as well as an opportunity to advance the national reconciliation project.
“This healing journey requires all Canadians to work together and recognize the history of injustice against the Inuit, but also recognize the achievements and contributions of our people,” Kudloo said in an emailed comment.
Kudloo says reconciliation is not just a political project, but something non-Indigenous Canadians can contribute to.
Participate in Inuit Day and National Indigenous Peoples Day, listen to the stories and worldviews of Inuit Elders, learn about and be open to Inuit culture, and create safe environments for all Indigenous peoples, are all things that non-Indigenous Canadians can do in their daily lives, she said.
Knowing the status of Inuit women today, as well as the history of Pauktuutit, is also important, she says, because of the unique pressures colonization has placed on women.
“Inuit women are among the most vulnerable populations, who not only face the ramifications of colonization, but also other challenges such as gender-based violence and inequality; therefore, the path to reconciliation can sometimes seem more difficult for them, ”said Kudloo.
Hard work is still needed
Aatami said that despite the growing attention to reconciliation in Canada in recent years, too few non-Indigenous people are still aware that the residential school system is not just a legacy of the past, but something that continues to hold true. impact Indigenous communities and families today.
National Truth and Reconciliation Day can contribute to this understanding, but it is important that the symbolism of the day does not replace this hard work still needed for Indigenous autonomy and self-determination, he said. declared.
“We’ve come a long way, but the mindset of many non-Indigenous people in Canada is still that Indigenous people should take care of non-Indigenous society, instead of [the non-Indigenous] try to understand and respect the indigenous societies themselves. And without it, there will be no healing.
“My message when I speak to the government is always the same, the Inuit don’t want it more than their fellow citizens, we just want fairness. “
Tribute to the survivors
The history of residential schools in Canada dates back to the 1800s.
Inuit and First Nations children were sent to federally funded, primarily church-run schools, far from their communities and cultures, and often against the wishes of their families.
The aim was to assimilate the children to European culture. Pphysical and sexual abuse was rampant in many institutions, and many students were beaten for speaking their indigenous language..
Over 130 of these institutions were located across Canada and it is estimated that over 150,000 Inuit, Métis and First Nations children were in the residential school system.
The last residential school in Canada was closed in 1998.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, a class action settlement put in place to help former students. The commission operated from 2008 to 2015 and its final report included 94 calls to action. The Call to Action 80 was the creation of a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honor survivors and reflect the impact of the residential school system on Indigenous communities, families and societies.
The bill creating the federal holiday received royal assent in June after the discovery of 215 anonymous graves in Kamloops, British Columbia (BC) in May on the site of a former boarding school. This was followed by the discovery of hundreds of other anonymous graves across Canada, followed, including 751 in Saskatchewan, and 160 in the Gulf Islands of southern British Columbia.
This day is now an annual statutory holiday for federal employees and workers of federally regulated workplaces.
However, some provinces and territories also grant a day off to their provincial or territorial public sector employees, including the Northwest Territories and British Columbia. Provinces like Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia have made the day a provincial holiday, while others like Ontario and Quebec have not.
Aatami said the decision is a lost opportunity for Quebec.
“It is sad that the government of Quebec does not want to mark the day of Indigenous people and reconciliation,” he said, adding that he had written to the premier of Quebec François Legault last week to express his apprehensions about the decision and urging it to reconsider, and awaits a response.
“Quebec should do the right thing,” Aatami said.
National Truth and Reconciliation Day also coincides with Orange Shirt Day, founded in 2013 to highlight the legacy of residential schools. Orange Shirt Day was initiated by Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor from Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation in British Columbia.
The day takes its name from when Webstad first arrived at boarding school and had his new orange shirt removed. September 30 was chosen because it was the day the children were taken to residential schools.
Write to Eilís at [email protected]
Related stories from the north:
Canada: COVID-19 Delays Apology to Inuit Residential School Survivors in Atlantic Canada, Eye on the Arctic
Finland: The Sami Parliament in Finland agrees that more time is needed for the preparation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic
Greenland: Danish Prime Minister apologizes to Greenlanders taken to Denmark as children in 1950s, Eye on the Arctic
Norway: Can cross-border cooperation help decolonize Sami language education, Eye on the Arctic
Sweden: Sami in Sweden begins work on the structure of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Eye on the Arctic
United States: Alaska relies on missing data on murdered Indigenous women, Alaska Public Media