Updated: Oct 14, 2021
(A version of this article is posted at https://dojustice.crcna.org/article/day-wonder)
In the days leading up to September 30, 2021, that marked Canada’s first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, many Canadians stood in line as self-employed Indigenous women worked around the clock trying to meet the demands of people of all ethnicities waiting for orange shirts to be made in a size and design of their choosing. Yet, I find myself wondering how all this will play out. Now that Canada can no longer deny the truth about the treatment of Indigenous people will things actually change for the better, or is this a fad that is here today and gone tomorrow? Has Creator heard our cries? Has he said enough is enough? Has the time come that things will be set right?
As a second-generation survivor of Indian Residential Schools, I have to wonder if there was no Orange Shirt Day observed by schools and social organizations if anyone would even pretend to care. How many of these people even know Phyllis Webstad’s story of having the orange shirt her Kokom bought for her first day at residential school that was taken from her? Do they know we wear orange shirts because she was not allowed to wear hers?
Only three provinces chose to adopt the day as a provincial statutory holiday: Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Alberta, which boasts the second largest Native population in Canada refuses to recognize this as a province-wide day of reflection. Why? I wonder. Many non-Indigenous people are afraid of reconciliation. Why? Perhaps it is because they are afraid of losing what they have. Perhaps they view First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people as undeserving. Perhaps they just don’t care.
I observed the day spending time with family on social media sharing photos, documents, and stories that filled the wide geographical gap between my siblings. Our mother passed when we were still young. I was the youngest and have only memories of being pulled out of her arms. After her passing, it was only a matter of time before her children were snapped up by child welfare as a part of the sixties scoop that was prevalent at the time. My elder sister encouraged us to post a collage of all our surviving members on social media as a sign of resilience. You tried to kill us, but we survived.
They call it cultural genocide, but John A. MacDonald mandated the starvation of our people. They killed the bison that were our main source of food en masse. Then they rounded us up and put us on reserves where we could no longer follow the food. My reserve was called Fort Misery because nothing would grow there. Our people starved. The government used the residential schools to study the effects of poor nutrition in children. Medical experiments were performed on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people that were sent to the hospital with tuberculosis. How is this not genocide, I wonder.
On this day, my phone was silent; there were no calls, text messages, or emails from my non-Indigenous friends. I wonder if the silence is a symptom of people that don’t know what to say, how to acknowledge, how to comfort? Perhaps, they thought it is better to leave well enough alone. I wonder if they acknowledged this day of reflection, or if it was just another day to them. As I drove to get a covid test, I notice the parking lot at the local shopping mall was full. Even if all the provinces and territories choose to adopt this as a national day of reflection, I wonder if the somberness of this day will only be observed by Indigenous people that finally learned the truth of the trauma our parents and grand-parents experienced at the hands of the church and government while non-Indigenous people use it to fill their shopping baskets.
For decades the nation was largely unaware of the goings on in these boarding schools. First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people bore the brunt of intergenerational trauma that was born out of the emotional, mental, spiritual, physical, and sexual abuse suffered by the children that attended these havens for death and disaster. Trauma and abuse has been passed on to our children and to our children’s children. It took one-hundred thirty-five years to break us down and it will take one-hundred thirty-five years to build us back up.
I ask myself where Christ is in all of this? I silently wonder how my Aunties managed to cling to Jesus after all the abuse they suffered in his name. The answer lays in the fact that they came to know the real Jesus, the one that loves children that does not hinder, abuse, or neglect them. When I am weary and want to turn away, he reminds me, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” (Deut 31:8).
Jesus, were you there when our people starved? Were you there when laws were made to beat my people down? Were you there when the bodies of children were buried and hidden away? In these moments, he reminds me that the Hebrews also lived in captivity, slavery, and murderous conditions for five hundred years. He reminds me that Pharaoh ordered the first-born male babies born to Hebrew women to be cast into the river (Exodus 1:15-22). He has heard our cries. He will set our people free.