On September 30 of last year, I experienced something that I wasn’t sure would ever happen.
For the first time ever, Canada celebrated a day of remembrance for children who never returned home and survivors of residential schools, with the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
This federal holiday was timed to coincide with Orange Shirt Day, a popular Indigenous-led day of remembrance to raise awareness of the tragic history of residential schools.
As the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation approaches, many organizations across Canada, including TD, will mark the day with messages of support, educational resources for employees and acts of solidarity. with Indigenous organizations and individuals.
But it has not always been so.
where it started
When I joined TD in 2015, I was excited to embark on a new career. This new role would give me the opportunity to learn and develop new skills, but I had no idea that it would also take me on another journey; an advocacy trip for the indigenous community – my community.
When I arrived at the Bank, I definitely experienced a culture shock. Before coming to TD, I personally had never celebrated holidays like Thanksgiving or Canada Day. Many people don’t realize how our calendar is shaped around the colonial roots of our society and how many members of the Indigenous community have a negative relationship with those roots.
At the same time, when it came to holidays that I wanted to recognize as part of my culture and community, they weren’t known to everyone, which made it harder for me to get those days off without using my vacation days.
Orange Shirt Day was one of those days.
At the time, I think it’s fair to say that most Canadians outside of Indigenous communities had never heard of Orange Shirt Day. When someone wore an orange shirt on the last day of September, it was considered nothing more than a flashy wardrobe choice, certainly not an act of remembrance.
This lack of familiarity made me realize there was an opportunity to help educate my friends and colleagues about my community and culture. I saw it as an opportunity to help break down barriers and promote inclusion and understanding for future generations.
Much easier said than done, but it was time to raise awareness.
Bring Orange Shirt Day to the Bank
I started small. The first step was to find a place where I could share my culture in a comfortable setting, while connecting with as many people as possible. And what better place than a busy TD cafeteria at lunchtime?
After a quick stop at the printer, I sat in the dining room equipped with twenty or so educational coloring papers, my sculptures, furs and stones, wearing my orange shirt, ready to share the importance of Orange Shirt Day and what it meant to advance Truth and Reconciliation.
During my quick lunch hour, I was able to talk to about 10-15 people to share my culture and educate my colleagues on the importance of Orange Shirt Day. It may not have been on a grand scale, but it was definitely a start. From there, I started campaigning for my colleagues and allies across the bank to participate in Orange Shirt Day and shared resources on where they could buy their own orange shirt.
Before I knew it, I was working with a small group of TD colleagues from the Aboriginal community to raise awareness of important topics and issues related to our culture, and to help make Orange Shirt Day a essential to the Bank’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
Finally, in 2017, we saw significant recovery across the Bank. Different industries, different locations across Canada have all taken the initiative to start participating and show their support and solidarity on this important day.
Some people might wonder why it’s so important to recognize Orange Shirt Day at an organization like TD. And the reason is simple: residential schools are part of our shared history, even if it is an uncomfortable part. Within the Aboriginal community, virtually no family has been spared this shameful legacy.
My family comes from Nunsiaeut, the northern part of Labrador. It is a common misconception that the Inuit were untouched by the residential school system. We were. My grandmother had a very large family, and she had 7 children.
All but two of her children were lost to the system.
This is not an uncommon story for Aboriginal families. We all have stories of family members taken away, never to be seen or heard from again. The survivors left wounds that will never fully heal. And the next generation has had to deal with the lasting impacts of these schools and, rather than being raised around them, they are left with the burden of picking up the pieces of what is left of our culture – or they will be lost too. .
Every year when I put on my orange shirt, I make sure to reflect on our history, think of those who have suffered and the challenges our community continues to face.
I make it a custom to put on, with my orange shirt, my traditional clothes. My sealskin earrings and headband, everything that makes me strong and proud of my culture.
I take our four medicines – sage, sweetgrass, tobacco and cedar – and with my family, I go to the water. Once there, we put these medicines in the water and give thanks. Thank you for what we have and the path we have traveled, we pray for my ancestors and for the elders who still suffer and acknowledge the continuing impacts of the trauma our families have faced.
The celebration of the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an important milestone on this country’s path to redemption. Of course, I recognize that we still have a long way to go on our way – especially with our young people.
Due to the legacy of residential schools, our youth are often disconnected from our culture. They grew up in a society filled with barriers and obstacles, leaving them to continually fight the system to realize their full potential. It is not an easy path.
If there is one thing I would encourage all Canadians to do on September 30 of this year, it is to remember that the pain of residential schools continues. It is not something that is over and done with. We owe it to the next generation to support them on their journey as they seek to heal the wounds of the past and chart a new course for our communities.
To learn more about TD’s commitment to Indigenous communities, visit: https://td.com/indigenous