As a Dene person, I was taught that all teachings start with a story, so here’s one of mine. When I was a child I spent most of my free time with my grandmother. She was my favourite person, my most trusted confidant, and my biggest supporter. My grandmother loved music. When I think back on my childhood, I vividly remember there being a soundtrack to our activities together - Patsy Cline when we cared for her plants, Doris Day while she kneaded bannock dough, Johnny Cash as we drove down the Ingraham Trail. These moments together were the happiest of my childhood. They’re the source of my love of the Land, my family, and my community. The time I spent with my grandmother helped shape me into the person I am today.
Stories play a pivotal role in our lives. They communicate to the world who we are and where we come from. The thing about stories is that they tend to cast light on only the things we choose, and cast everything else in shadow. When we think about stories, it’s important to consider not just the ones we tell about ourselves, but also the ones we tell about the country that we live in. To the global population, Canada is a place of opportunity, and Canadians have a reputation as being polite, kind, and accepting. In reality, Canada is much more complicated than this story would lead us to believe. The story of Canada we have long been told is that of “discovery”. This is an unequivocally false narrative. For Indigenous peoples, who have been living on this land for time immemorial, so-called Canada is also a place of intergenerational trauma, and ongoing colonial violence displacement.
When we broaden the stories we tell, we bring more people into the light. It’s about recognizing the longstanding impacts of colonial violence on Indigenous peoples and holding ourselves accountable for the ways in which we may benefit from colonization. It’s about understanding how our legal, academic, and social systems are all built on the legacy of imperialism. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was born out of Orange Shirt Day, a day of acknowledgment started by Northern Secwpemc knowledge holder Phyllis Webstad, who was brave enough to share her story with others. The spirit of Truth and Reconciliation is about being honest about the stories that we share about our own history and that of the country we live in.
The reality is, Truth and Reconciliation is about more than just a federal holiday. It is a lifelong commitment to telling a story of Canada that is fair and truthful. It is a set of actions that define who we are as a society and who we want to be. Reconciliation requires a community effort because it impacts everyone. Orange shirts are a visual form of solidarity with Indigenous peoples, but it is even more important to question the ways in which you yourself are contributing to colonial systems of power. How do you use your privilege to help your community? How are you uplifting and supporting Indigenous peoples throughout the year? How are you integrating Indigenous Knowledge systems into your work? The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is only meaningful if we are all actively participating.
One of the best ways that you can support Indigenous peoples is through donating to organizations that are involved in the growth of development of Indigenous communities. The Native Women’s Association of Canada is a nonprofit organization that provides educational resources and support for economic success to gender diverse Indigenous peoples. The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation is an Indigenous-led organization that provides Traditional services throughout the Northwest Territories. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society provides services to Survivors, their families, and Indigenous peoples experiencing intergenerational trauma. All of these organizations provide important resources to Indigenous peoples.
If you choose to wear an orange shirt in solidarity, make sure that you are supporting Indigenous artists. Resist is a Native-owned clothing company operated out of Tkaronto (Toronto). Ungali Clothing has partnered with Emma Forbes, an Afro-Inuk artist. All proceeds from the sale of Emma’s Orange shirt design are donated to the Orange Shirt Society. Most importantly, seek out local Indigenous artists in your community so that you can support their work.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is an opportunity to support your community and Indigenous peoples through education, activism, and philanthropy. By doing so, you’ll be helping to tell a story about Canada that is inclusive and honest.
- Kianna Stagg, Dëne Sųłınë́ artist and educator
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