On Friday, September 30, the University of Toronto community recognizes Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Both days of recognition—one Indigenous-led and the other established by the federal government—call for remembrance, reflection, and action around the history and devastating legacy of residential schools on Indigenous Peoples and communities.
Orange Shirt Day, launched in 2013, centres the childhood experience of survivor Phyllis Webstad to convey the profound and lasting damage that Canadian residential schools inflicted upon Indigenous children, their families, and their communities. The Canadian government created the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in 2021 to fulfill Call to Action #80 of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015), which identified the need to maintain public memory of Canada’s residential schools as part of the reconciliation process.
Canada’s residential school system attempted to wholly eradicate Indigeneity from Canadian society by separating First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children from their families and communities, severing ties to their language and traditional ways of life. The recent visit of Pope Francis to Canada reminded all of us that this system—which operated nationwide from the 19th century to the late 1990s—received support from multiple sectors of Canadian society, including local governments, leaders of several faiths, a vast array of institutions and organizations, and, to a large extent, the Canadian public.
As members of the University of Toronto community, it is important to acknowledge that Canadian post-secondary institutions, too, bear responsibility for disseminating and reinforcing the ideology that sustained the residential school system. Among other practices, university and college curricula long privileged non-Indigenous knowledges and perpetuated myths about
Canada’s colonial history that undermined Indigenous land claims and Indigenous cultures. For generations, moreover, prospective Indigenous students and staff, faculty, and librarians have been disadvantaged by recruitment, admissions, and hiring processes at post-secondary institutions, and have lacked institutional support upon entry.
These and other injustices inform the University of Toronto’s 34 Calls to Action, identified by the U of T Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) Steering Committee five years ago. I encourage everyone in the University community to read the Office of Indigenous Initiatives’ Annual progress report as well as its guiding document Answering the Call: Wecheehetowin to learn where additional work is needed to address anti-Indigenous discrimination on our campuses, to Indigenize our spaces, and to ensure that Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing are valued and respected in all University activities.
I also encourage students, faculty, librarians, and staff to seek opportunities to continue building Indigenous cultural competency. Sessions led by the Office of Indigenous Initiatives are among the many opportunities to engage meaningfully with the history of colonization and how it continues to affect Indigenous Peoples and communities on a multitude of levels, including health outcomes, economic status, access to safe and quality housing, and employment opportunities. Information about these sessions can be found in the Resources section of this memo.
Across our campuses, the Every Child Matters Flag has been raised to honour the generations of Indigenous children who attended residential schools, the many who were lost, and those who survived. On September 30, flags will be lowered to half-mast as part of our university-wide recognition of Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
I invite students, faculty, librarians, and staff to register for the in-person tri-campus event hosted at Hart House on September 30 and livestreamed on YouTube. Brenda Wastasecoot, Assistant Professor at the Centre for Indigenous Studies, will provide the keynote address: “The Nikis Story is the Story of Canada: Reflecting on the Impacts of the Indian Residential Schools.”
On October 3, members of the Indigenous U of T community are invited to gather and reflect at Hart House Farm. Please visit the Indigenous U of T website for details.
Reconciliation is a lifelong process. It requires a sustained commitment to learning, listening, reflecting, and respectful action. It calls on all of us to support change that attempts to redress both historical and contemporary wrongs against First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples and the traumatic legacies that remain.
Events, Resources and Training
The University of Toronto’s Orange Shirt Day and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Commemoration
September 30, 10 – 11 am
The Great Hall – Hart House
7 Hart House Circle
Register for the in-person event*
*Please note that registration does not guarantee admittance. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Overflow seating is available in The Music Room at Hart House and at Varsity Stadium.
The event will also be livestreamed on YouTube.
October 3, 2022, 12-3 pm
Hart House Farm
Save the Date
Indigenous students, faculty, librarians, and staff are invited to this gathering to come together as a community to reflect on Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Services for members of the Indigenous U of T Community
- National Indian Residential School Crisis Line
- Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP)
Indigenous Cultural Competency Training series for all Students, Staff, Faculty, and Librarians
This series includes the following sessions: Speaking Our Truths: The Journey Towards Reconciliation (Part 1 and Part 2); Reconciliation: Walking the Path of Indigenous Allyship; and Reflecting on Land Acknowledgements. Employees can register for this training through the Centre for Learning, Leadership, and Culture (LLC). Students can register for training through the Career Learning Network (CLNX).