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September 30: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

This post includes details about colonialism and residential schools which could be upsetting and triggering. If you are a residential school survivor or intergenerational survivor and need support, please call the National Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419. NWT residents can also speak with a trained responder for free by calling the NWT Help Line at 1-800-661-0844. The NWT Help Line, which is confidential, has an option for follow-up calls.


In 2013, former students of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School (1891-1981) and their families, which included members of the Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in, Southern Dakelh, and St’at’imc Nations, came together in Williams Lake, BC, for a reunion and commemoration project. The gathering was “designed to commemorate the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.”

During the event, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, of the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, shared the story of her first day at residential school. She was only six years old when she arrived at St. Joseph’s, wearing a shiny orange shirt her grandmother had bought especially for her. Phyllis’s new shirt was taken from her that day, along with the rest of her clothes. In Phyllis’s words, “The colour orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing.”

Orange Shirt Day, celebrated annually on September 30, is a legacy of this Survivor-led event. The date was deliberately chosen by Survivors because “it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.” On Orange Shirt Day, Canadians are urged to wear orange shirts to honour Survivors of residential schools, their families, and their communities, but as importantly to “to listen with open ears to the stories of survivors and their families, and to remember those that didn’t make it.”

In 2021, the Government of Canada fulfilled the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 80 and designated September 30 as a statutory holiday in Canada, also known as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Government of Canada states “This day honours the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

It is important to note that since the release of the 94 Calls to Action in 2015, the Government of Canada has completed 11 actions (See Jewell and Mosby’s “Calls to Action Accountability” for a full accounting of the implementation of the TRC’s Calls to Action as of 2021).

As of July 15, 2022, the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) has amended the Employment Standards Act (Act) to add the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to the list of statutory holidays. Not all provinces and territories have chosen to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

As a recreation organization, the NWT Recreation and Parks Association benefits greatly from the colonial Canadian governments and its claim to sovereignty.

We receive funding, institutional process, and information from this system.

Following the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) in 2015, the NWTRPA committed to advance reconciliation by working in the spirit of the TRC. Reconciliation is one of our strategic priorities. The University of Alberta is a leading research-intensive Canadian university that is led by its strategic plan, For the Public Good. A part of this plan includes “listening, collecting, and collaborating with key partners across all sectors of society” to disseminate research to all levels of community.

“How I Survived”: Recreation at Northern Residential Schools is a project initiated by the NWT Recreation and Parks Association (NWTRPA) and Gwichyà Gwich’in historian Dr. Crystal Gail Fraser, Department of History & Classics at the University of Alberta. The project is guided by an advisory committee that includes former Grollier Hall student and CBC journalist Paul Andrew (Shúhtaot’ı̨nę); elite cross-country skier and former residential school survivor Dr. Sharon Anne Firth (Teetł’it Gwich’in); long-time teacher Lorna Storr from Akłarvik; and past NWTRPA Board Member Kyla LeSage (Vuntut Gwitchin and Anishinaabeg).

If we truly want to honour those impacted by the Indian residential school system, including Survivors, Intergenerational Survivors, and those children who never returned home, if we truly want to advance reconciliation, we must implement the 94 Calls to Action, we must implement the 231 Calls for Justice, and we must honour the treaties.

This requires action from all levels of government, the churches, and all sectors, including education, healthcare, justice, and recreation. As a starting point, contact information for members of the federal parliament is here and for members of the NWT’s legislative assembly is here.

The NWT Recreation and Parks Association (NWTRPA) offices will be closed on Friday, September 30, to honour the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.


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