Steve Dooley, Executive Director of the SFU Surrey campus (left), and Joy Johnson, President and Vice-Chancellor of SFU (right).

Honouring the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

October 05, 2021

Last week, SFU marked its first Truth and Reconciliation week, and there were a number of initiatives that took place across our three campuses to stand in solidarity with Indigenous communities across Canada.

As you know, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation took place on September 30th. This day is aligned with what was previously known as Orange Shirt Day, which commemorated the residential school experience and provided an opportunity to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families.

At the Surrey campus, in allyship with the Indigenous communities south of the Fraser River and to signal our commitment to the ongoing process of reconciliation, we joined the Surrey Urban Indigenous Leadership Committee (SUILC) and the City of Surrey to recognize the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. More than 40 members of the SFU community (including SFU’s President, Joy Johnson) and our partners convened outside of the campus’ new building and drummed over to Holland Park, where we joined hundreds of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to mark the occasion.

Members of our campus community participated in a drumming procession to Holland Park.
Nav Chima, Director of Community Programs and Partnerships at SFU Surrey.

Emceed by SFU alum, Lyn Daniels (and co-chair of SUILC), the event began with a song to recognize and celebrate the heritage of everyone in attendance, led by Gary George from SFU’s Office for Aboriginal Peoples.

At 2:15 PM, we observed a minute of silence to honour the 215 children found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May, the thousands of children that have been found since then, and the children that have yet to be found.

Michael Kelly-Gabriel from Kwantlen First Nation also provided remarks, encouraging those in attendance to take the time to educate themselves and others.

“The elders here and the survivors, as I look around, they know that they’re not alone and that’s what we want," said Kelly-Gabriel. "We want you to be a witness here today to take it into your heart, but also go home and share that with just one of your family (members) … so there’s one more person that knows about our history.”

Hundreds of community members gathered in Holland Park to recognize the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Photo: the City of Surrey.

In her remarks, SFU President Joy Johnson stated:

"Today, I’d like to re-affirm that SFU is committed to serving as an instrument for reconciliation, through facilitating a new relationship between Indigenous people and all Canadians, helping with the healing process for past injustices in meaningful ways," said Johnson. "Our work continues to increase access to academic programs, engage in research and to create safe spaces at the Surrey campus for Indigenous students."

President Johnson also introduced Kali Stierle, an Indigenous SFU student with SFU’s First Nations Student Association to say a few words.

"It's a really important day for us to remember and honour the survivors and the living impact of residential schools," said Kali Stierle, a student with SFU's First Nations Student Association.

As I reflect on the initiatives and events that have taken place over the past week, I recognize that we, as a post-secondary institution, have a great responsibility to educate and promote awareness of the tragic history of residential schools. It is through education that those who suffered and continue to suffer from the legacy of residential schools are not forgotten. The healing process is a long and winding path; SFU is committed to serve as an ally to Indigenous communities as the difficult work continues.

Though the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation has passed, reconciliation and self-education is a continuous and daily journey. I encourage you to stay connected with some of the resources that we have at SFU to continue your learning, including the Office for Aboriginal Peoples, the Indigenous Student Centre, and the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Initiative resource guide.