National Day for Truth & Reconciliation | Orange Shirt Day

September 22, 2021

Starting this year September 30th,  is declared the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation across Canada. Previously, this day was known as Orange Shirt Day.  Originally conceptualized by Phyllis Webstad, a Secwepemc woman residential school survivor who told a story about an orange shirt that her grandmother had given her to wear at her first day of school.  An orange shirt that the nuns took away.  Since that time, Phyllis has called on all peoples to observe, recognize and commemorate the life experiences of generations of Indigenous peoples who were forced to attend residential schools.

This year is particularly poignant because of the more than 1600[1] remains of Indigenous children found on former residential schools across Canada and the United States[2].  The search for these unmarked graves was sparked when the remains of 215 children were found on May 27, 2021 on the territories of the T’kem’lups te Secwepemc where the Kamloops Indian residential school was located.  Taking the time to honour the residential school  survivors, their families and communities who have borne the brunt of the intergenerational impacts of the genocidal policies of Canada’s church and state, is an important step towards the possibility of a true reconciliation process.

While this is a positive step towards making things right, it is important to acknowledge the systemic barriers that still exist within the university and the education system.  Some of which have shifted since the 2015 Calls to Action of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.  The 2017 Walk This Path With Us Report from the SFU Aboriginal Reconciliation Council and the 2019 Looking Forward…Indigenous Pathways To and Through Simon Fraser University from Dr. Michelle Pidgeon and her team are two documents that are providing some specific ways the institution can address the inequities and the embedded colonial practices.

Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) has taken steps at the graduate level of SFU by bringing Dorothy Cucw-la7 Christian to the role of Associate Director, Indigenous Policy & Pedagogy to enhance the experiences of Indigenous master’s and doctoral students.  By collaborating with the GPS team and other areas of the university that serve Indigenous students, Dorothy sees a continuum of education that begins with students preparing to enter university, then undergraduate studies and finally completing a graduate program in any field the person is passionate about researching.  Removing barriers in each stage of the continuum, that is, the transition from high school, applying to an undergraduate program, or an master’s or doctoral program is part of providing opportunities for individuals who have survived intergenerational trauma caused by their parents or grandparents or great grandparents attending residential schools. She will help develop and grow programming and policies that will provide a solid foundation to support Indigenous students to thrive in the academic domain at SFU.

Dorothy Cucw-la7 comes to us from her home community of Splatsin, which is  one of 17 communities of the Secwepemc Nation.  Splatsin sits at the most southern part of Secwepemc territories that  borders with the Syilx Nation in the interior plateau regions of what is now known as British Columbia.  

September 30th, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is formally recognized as a provincial and federal statutory holiday. To mark this occasion at SFU, all classes are cancelled and non-essential campus services are suspended on September 30. Additionally, SFU is hosting various events starting with an Opening Ceremony for Truth and Reconciliation Week on September 27. Learn more about the events, activities, learning opportunities and resources to observe this important step toward reconciliation.

[1] Unsubstantiated numbers; however, communities across Canada and US have been tracking the numbers since May 27, 2021.

[2] The imposed border between Canada and the US divides many Indigenous Nations whose peoples live north and south of the 49th parallel.

Select Events

Picking up the Pieces: The Making of the Witness Blanket” Film screening followed by a conversation with Carey Newman and his sisters Marion and Ellen

21 September 2021; 4:30 – 7:00 PM
Virtual event presented via Zoom

Returning Home and Pathways to Reconciliation” Film screening and Q&A with Phyllis Webstad (founder of Orange Shirt Day)”

27 September 2021; 11:00am – 1:00pm
Live, in-person event at the Chan Centre

Decolonizing On-Demand with Nahanee Creative Workshops (Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee is an SFU alumna)

30 September 2021
Cost: $40/workshop

Indigenous Research and Indigenous Methodologies: Convergences and Divergences, featuring Indigenous research scholar Dr. Margaret Kovach.

1 October 2021; 2:30pm – 3:45pm
Virtual event presented via Zoom

Select Resources

Courageous Conversations: Decolonization, Disciplines, and Indigenous Knowledges in the university | Dr. Marie Battiste and Dr. Catherine Odora Hoppers.

Recording of Webinar
Originally recorded: Sept. 23, 2021

BCcampus Indigenization guide to help researchers across the province — whether they’re students or instructors — to incorporate Indigenous methodologies.

2 Crees in a Pod platform for Indigenous storytelling – one built on honouring, recognizing and amplifying Indigenous voices.

Indigenous Canada MOOC: platform for Indigenous storytelling – one built on honouring, recognizing and amplifying Indigenous voices.