SFU Vancouver holds event to commemorate National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

This is the first in-person event for the Vancouver campus since the pandemic

Person in Indigenous garment looking at items laid on staircase
PHOTO: Tandem X Visuals / Unsplash

By: Nancy La, News Editor 

Content warning: mentions of residential schools. 

On September 28, 2021, SFU Vancouver hosted the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation (NTRC) event to “raise awareness of the dark legacy of the residential school system in Canada, and to honour the children affected and their families.” In attendance were Elders Margaret, Seislom, and Syexwaliya, along with president Joy Johnson and staff from the office of Aboriginal Peoples and Indigenous student recruitment and admissions. 

In a public statement on NTRC, Johnson said, “SFU has obligations to recognize, not just the land on which our campuses reside but also the legacy of colonization. We need to move forward in a positive way to restore relationships with Indigenous communities through meaningful action.”

Attendees were encouraged to wear orange shirts to “honour those impacted by the residential school system.” Orange shirts were also available for sale by donation, with all proceeds going to Residential School Survivors’ Society. 

The event opened with speeches from Elder Margaret and president Johnson. This was followed by testimonies from Ron Johnston, director of office for Aboriginal Peoples, Jessica La Rochelle, director of Indigenous student recruitment and admissions, and Gary George, officer for community relations of office for Aboriginal Peoples. 

The event concluded with Elder Syexwaliya leading a drumming and dancing circle. SFU Burnaby and Surrey held their own ceremonies for NTRC on September 27 and 30, respectively.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission included introducing a national holiday for truth and reconciliation in its 94 Calls to Action, published in December 2015. In 2017, Saskatchewan Member of Parliament, Georgina Jolibois, led a motion for National Day of Truth and Reconciliation to be made a holiday. NTRC was made a federal statutory holiday on June 5, 2021, in the wake of the findings of burial sites in former residential school locations across Canada.

The orange shirt, symbolic of NTRC, stemmed from Phyllis Webstad’s (Shuswap) story and experience with the residential school system. In 1973, Webstad’s orange shirt was taken away when she entered St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, BC. On September 30, 2013, Webstad spoke publicly for the first time about her connection with the orange shirt. From then on, the colour orange has been associated with Truth and Reconciliation. 

The 94 Calls to Action and resources for education on the history and effects of residential schools are available on the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation website. For those wishing to contribute financially, the Indian Residential School Survivors’ Society is accepting donations on their website. For those who require it, the Residential School Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419 is available 24/7.