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Lasting impacts

Sept. 30: reflecting on the history and legacy of residential schools

By Joanne Harris

Friday, Sept. 30, is Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

It is a day to reflect on the history and legacy of residential schools in this country and in our province.

Newfoundland and Labrador had five residential schools; the legacy of those schools continues to this day.

There were four in the Labrador communities of Cartwright, Makkovik, Nain, and Northwest River and one in the Newfoundland community of St. Anthony.

Intergenerational impacts

Orange Shirt Day was started by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad in 2013.

It is an Indigenous-led initiative to recognize and raise awareness of the intergenerational impacts of residential schools on individuals, families and communities.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was created by the federal government in 2021, fulfilling the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) call to action No. 80: “We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour survivors, their families and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

The TRC’s mandate was to inform all Canadians about what happened in residential schools. The TRC carried out extensive research, including hearing from survivors, their families, members of their communities, former school staff, and others.

Based on this research, a comprehensive report was prepared, detailing the policies and operations of the schools and their lasting impacts. The final report, released in 2015, included 10 principles for reconciliation and 94 calls to action that speak to all sectors of Canadian society.

“It is no longer enough to simply support Indigenous student success within the mainstream environment.”

The TRC makes it clear that universities have a fundamental role to play in our country’s reconciliation efforts.

This obligation to advance reconciliation was integral to the creation of Memorial’s Strategic Framework for Indigenization 2021-2026.

The release of the TRC report compelled us to re-examine our approach to the inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in the academy. It is no longer enough to simply support Indigenous student success within the mainstream environment.

We must look at ways to Indigenize the academy to the benefit of all — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — students, employees and others with a stake in the academy.

‘Lived practice’

It is through consideration of the TRC and the framework’s strategic priorities that the Office of Indigenous Affairs approached programming for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Reconciliation starts with building knowledge of the Indigenous Peoples on which Memorial’s campuses are situated.

“Reconciliation is ultimately a lived practice, not a dry discussion.”

Indigenous Peoples have lived on these lands and waters since time immemorial, and continue to live in their traditional territories, but their stories and experiences are largely absent from the university landscape.

Reconciliation is ultimately a lived practice, not a dry discussion, and it must be enacted in a manner that fosters creativity, connection, collaboration and reflection.

Familiarizing traditional practices

On Thursday, Sept. 29, five smudging ceremonies and lessons will take place across campus.

Participation is voluntary, but we encourage everyone to take the time to observe, listen and learn. Smudging is a First Nations purification ceremony involving the lighting of sacred medicinal plants. Smudging often happens in spaces in which First Nations knowledges are shared.

Through these smudges, we seek to familiarize the Memorial community with the practice and its significance. Smudging is also one of many traditional practices residential schools actively disparaged and disrupted in the effort to assimilate students.

Widespread public commemoration and acknowledgement of the history and continued intergenerational impacts of the residential school legacy is a vital component of reconciliation.

“Truth and reconciliation are the responsibility of every Canadian.”

Therefore, the final smudge in the Bruneau Centre lobby will be followed by a brief talk about reconciliation and a campus walk from the Bruneau Centre to Juniper House where we will tie orange ribbons. The talk will take place in IIC-2001 at 2:30 p.m. and the walk will start at 3 p.m.

From, Monday, Sept. 26 to Thursday, Sept. 29, there will be resource tables at the Core Science Facility, the University Centre, the Queen Elizabeth II Library, the Bruneau Centre and the Science building.

The resource tables will include an engagement opportunity that we encourage everyone to participate in.

Space will be provided to write down any thoughts, questions or ideas you may have concerning reconciliation and what you as a member of the Memorial community can do to further it.

Resources available will include information on the TRC, residential schools, smudging, and lighting the Kullik. There will be education sessions about the Kullik as part of International Inuit Day programming in November.

You can find the full schedule of events and all details here.

Everyone’s responsibility

Truth and reconciliation are the responsibility of every Canadian.

However, there cannot be reconciliation without truth telling. Truth is the hardest part, as it means learning about the difficult history, purpose and impacts of residential schools in Canada.

We encourage you to explore the following resources to learn more.

Orange Shirt Day

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

TRC Calls to Action

The Canadian Encyclopedia – Residential Schools in Canada

A Long Journey: Residential Schools in Labrador and Newfoundland by Andrea Proctor

Memorial’s Strategic Framework for Indigenization 2021-2026

Orange shirts may be purchased at the Memorial University bookstore, UC-2006. Proceeds will be donated to First Light.

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