By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to The Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE – Next Thursday, September 30 marks an important step toward understanding and open communication between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.
In May 2021, a bill was passed in the House of Commons to recognize Sept. 30 as Orange Shirt Day, a day for people to wear orange and raise awareness about the history of residential schools in Canada. Also known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Sept. 30 has been recognized by the government as a statutory federal holiday starting this year.
Patrick Park-Tighe of People of the Dawn Indigenous Friendship Center (PDIFC) says the changes that are happening, the things that are being questioned, are important steps toward necessary change.
“For us, we were very excited to hear this. I think it probably started a little bit with the re-imagining of Discovery Day, and I think that is one of those things that as Indigenous people can clearly tell you that there’s nothing to be discovered if there’s people already there,” said Park-Tighe. “That was something that was nonsensical to begin with, so it was great to see that questioned and I think it has spread into other things. We’ve had discussions about renaming Red Indian Lake. There’s been other places that have removed statues, universities changing names. It’s a trend that seems to have led naturally to Orange Shirt Day and factoring in the truth and reconciliation piece.”
Park-Tighe believes this rapid change has been, in no small part, propelled forward by the initial discovery of 215 bodies in a residential school property in B.C., and the scale of the tragedy still being uncovered throughout Canada.
“This tragedy wasn’t unknown to Indigenous communities. It seemed to be more of a shock to non-Indigenous Canadians, and I think that collective grief and outrage have led to the changes that we are seeing today,” said Park-Tighe. “It was probably a natural progression for the government to say ‘We’ve already got a day that recognizes the injustices of the residential schools with the orange shirt campaign – let’s take it the next step and bring into this the truth and reconciliation piece.’”
Park-Tighe says things have been swept under the rug for far too long and sometimes, certain things happen that can’t be hidden anymore.
“There’s a lot of things that you can ignore, but mass graves of children is not one of them,” said Park-Tighe. “There have been a number of colonial policies and injustices in the Canadian system that have existed since the founding of this country, but what happened in this case, though, is we have the gut-level tragic piece of children and the treatment that they received and how they’ve been basically cast aside like this. I think that any parent – anyone who has any interaction with children – that hits you right in the heart.”
The People of the Dawn have their own events taking place on Sept. 30 at the Friendship Center. In the morning, children will be invited into the center to familiarize themselves with it.
“It’s also to give them the opportunity to learn a little bit about the significance about the day. It’s something that we want to do in a gentle way because there’s a lot of emotional weight to try and address this topic,” said Park-Tighe.
In the afternoon the PDIFC are inviting the community to a sharing circle at the center. People are asked to arrive at 12:45 p.m. for the event that begins at 1:00 p.m. As part of the event, Lottie Johnson of Eskasoni First Nation, a residential school survivor, will appear via video conference to share her story.
“I think a lot of it is sitting down face to face and having a real heartfelt and honest discussion and dialogue. Nothing is going to change overnight. We know that. I’m hoping at this point we’ve reached a threshold where it just can’t be pushed under the rug anymore. It can’t just be ignored. It can’t be rationalized,” said Park-Tighe. “We just want people to know when they come into this space and we have this conversation, we need to do it in a safe and respectful way. It’s really an opportunity to have that honest talk that’s meant to be positive. That’s what we’re looking for here. It’s supporting each other, not laying blame. It’s looking for shared solutions and better days.”
In an attempt to get the community involved, the People of the Dawn recently asked for design ideas for their own shirt. Unfortunately, they didn’t get much of a response; however, they still wanted to offer something. In-house they produced a design that is available online for purchase. Approximately $3 from every purchase will go to a charity that supports residential survivors and reconciliation. Shirts can be purchased online at: https://shop-pdifc.creator-spring.com/.