(AJNews) – Just after the autumn chaggim, the Alberta Jewish community joined the rest of Canada in commemorating September 30 as a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day, formerly known as Orange Shirt Day was designated as a federal holiday to remember and honour the First Nation and other Indigenous children who were forced to attend Indian Residential ‘Schools’ which were institutions of assimilation and genocide and resulted in thousands of children’s deaths.
The Calgary Jewish Federation and the Jewish Federation of Edmonton both released statements encouraging members to commemorate the day. The Edmonton statement read “September 30 marks an important day for Canadians, including the Jewish community. It’s the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We encourage you to take the time during this day to learn, listen and reflect.
“Let’s mark the day with reflection and discussion in the spirit of truth and reconciliation. Canada’s Jewish community stands by its Indigenous siblings, and we encourage you to spend the day learning how to serve as allies to Canada’s Indigenous nations.” A list of resources was provided to facilitate making the day meaningful.
The Calgary statement read, “Today marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“We honour the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process. All are encouraged to wear the colour orange to raise awareness of the very tragic legacy of residential schools and honour the thousands of Survivors.”
Shula Banchik, Art and Cultural Director of The Paperny Family Calgary JCC explained that the JCC honoured the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with two heartfelt events during that week. A virtual program was held with Casey Eagle Speaker, Aboriginal Resource Co-ordinator at Hull Services, a Calgary non-profit agency that focuses on children’s mental health and behavioural health, where he shared his childhood experience at a residential school. Introductory remarks were provided by Cantor Russ Jayne from Beth Tzedec Congregation.
The other event brought patrons’ creativity to life by building two communal dreamcatchers, which were displayed beside information about the residential school system.
Each of the community synagogues and schools also marked the day in a significant way, in commemoration of Orange Shirt Day, a day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“The new federal statutory holiday honours the survivors of residential schools as well as their families and communities,” stated Cantor Russell Jayne, Calgary Beth Tzedec Congregation. “It’s an opportunity for all of us who call Canada home to reflect, learn and act. I challenge all of us to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action and find some way to bring them into our personal life, our social life and our business life throughout the coming year.”
Events were held across the province, and the country despite the fact that Alberta and a few other provinces did not recognize the day as a statutory holiday.
The Honourable Murray Sinclair released this statement about the significance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. He stated, “As part of the 94 Calls to Action we released in 2015, Call to Action 80 called on the federal government to establish a statutory holiday to honour Survivors and ensure commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools.
“This year, Call to Action 80 has been realized — one of only 14 of 94 Calls that have been implemented. As we pause to reflect on the first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this September 30, we must also recognize the moment in which it is happening.
“In the past months, over a thousand unmarked graves have been uncovered on the grounds of former residential schools. With each discovery, Survivors and their families experience trauma all over again. For Survivors, it brings up painful memories of friends being injured, disappearing or dying. For families, it is a constant reminder of the missing children who never came home.
“The residential school system was rife with abuse, neglect, and violence. Over generations, these schools systematically dismantled the connection of children to their families, communities, cultures, languages, and traditions. These memories and conversations are painful for Indigenous Peoples from coast to coast to coast. For non-Indigenous people in Canada, it is necessary to confront the truths about the history of this country, residential schools, and colonialism.
“The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation presents us with a moment to look forward to what this country can be, and a renewed opportunity to put Reconciliation into action.
“Education is the key for all people in Canada to walk the path of Reconciliation. To honour the memory of every child taken from their home, we must continue this truth-telling process and the honest conversations about the legacy and impact of colonialism in Canada. We must also listen to the voices and experiences of Survivors, Elders, and Knowledge Keepers. Confronting the truth is difficult, but it is vital to keeping the process of Reconciliation alive and to creating a community where every child matters.
“Take this new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to set aside the impact of the untruthful version of history that has long been presented and to learn from Indigenous voices.”
CIJA emphasized the importance of the day with this statement: “Discoveries of unmarked graves on the grounds of residential schools reminds us that, to realize the Canada that we aspire to create, we must have honest conversations about our history and how it informs today’s public policy so that everyone who lives on this land can enjoy peace, justice, and security.”