September 30th is Orange Shirt Day and Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This is a day to honour the survivors and the children who never came home from residential schools. In addition, it is a day to reflect on Canada’s colonial past and present, and the countless atrocities that have been and continue to be committed against Indigenous Peoples, families, and communities. It is also a day to engage in ceremony, in active reflection, in solidarity, and in action.
However, the Ford government has announced that Ontario is not recognizing September 30th as a provincial statutory holiday, meaning that businesses, schools, and other services will remain open. The Ontario government has once again refused to engage meaningfully with Indigenous communities and the legacy of colonialism. It is beyond shameful that Premier Doug Ford and his government refuse to listen, learn and take even a small measure to work towards needed change and reconciliation. The government’s decision is particularly insulting to generations of Indigenous Peoples and dismissive of the legacy of residential schools and cultural genocide in this country and province. Further, in continuing to ignore the calls to action, the Ontario government has yet again prioritized the special interests of their business donors instead of providing a paid day of leave for workers to reflect on the history and magnitude of dispossession of Indigenous Peoples.
Since May 2021, the uncovering of thousands of unmarked graves of children at former residential school sites has confirmed what Indigenous People have been saying for decades. The legacy of genocide has had a profound impact on survivors and their families and communities that continue to experience the intergenerational trauma caused by these institutions. Furthermore, it is necessary to highlight that residential schools, and their lasting impacts, are only one aspect of colonialism that continues to this day. From Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit people, to the lack of clean drinking water in dozens of First Nations Communities, to the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in foster care, to the police violence and carceral system violence faced by Indigenous Peoples, and much more, ongoing colonialism needs to be recognized. Yet, six years after the completion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) none of the 94 Calls to Action have been completed. Two years after the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, real action still needs to be taken to address the 231 Calls for Justice. September 30th, therefore, serves as an urgent reminder not just of the 94 calls to action in the TRC, but the ongoing project of colonialism in Ontario and Canada. Calls to action must be responded to and reports cannot be allowed to become another fossilized document in government archives like many before. September 30th is a reminder for those in power who have chosen to ignore calls to action for decades, that they are active agents in the maintenance of colonial legacies and present-day forms of dispossession of Indigenous livelihoods.
While September 30th, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, is a day of reflection, learning, support, and solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, action is required year-round. As the TRC report highlights, “Without truth, justice, and healing, there can be no genuine reconciliation. Reconciliation is not about closing a sad chapter of Canada’s past, but about opening new healing pathways of reconciliation that are forged in truth and justice.” As a colonial province in a colonial nation, Ontario has a long way to go to address the legal, systemic, and normalized racism rooted in the fabric of this province and country. The path towards reconciliation requires pursuing justice for Indigenous communities on all fronts. The Canadian Federation of Students Ontario calls for real justice and action for Indigenous communities. On September 30th, we call on our members and people across the province to take the time to learn and engage in deep reflection about the legacy and ongoing processes of settler-colonial violence. Lastly, we call on Premier Ford and his provincial government to not only recognize September 30th as a statutory holiday but to recognize that Every Child Matters.
The Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario is the oldest and largest student organization in Ontario, representing over 350,000 college and university students in every region of the province.