Orange Shirt Day to be a statutory holiday for Saskatoon and Regina
- Rose Mansbridge-Goldie | September 13, 2021
Residential school survivor Kerry Benjoe is glad Saskatoon and Regina have joined the federal government in recognizing September 30 as a new statutory holiday, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“I see this day as an opportunity to shed light on the hidden history of Indigenous Peoples,” Benjoe said.
She attended the Qu’Appelle Indian Industrial School in Lebret from 1987-1990 and said she grew up in a time of segregation.
“I attended the day school on reserve and from there I went to residential school. When I got sick, I went to an Indian hospital. These were places that were specifically designed to treat Indigenous people—to keep them out of society, to keep us away.”
Regina and Saskatoon need to go beyond recognizing the holiday – commonly known as Orange Shirt Day - but they need to go further and recognize the role they played in the history of residential schools, she said.
“For people to understand and truly grasp this concept of reconciliation they need first to understand the truth,” she said.
The 751 unmarked graves found at Marieval Residential School on Cowessess First Nation are among the many unmarked grave sites that represent the hidden truth Benjoe talks about. The holiday is to understand the trauma of loss caused by residential schools: the children who never made it home, the families who were left to grieve and the survivors who had their culture taken.
Saskatoon’s Director of Indigenous Initiatives, Melissa Cote, is glad to see the city recognize the holiday.
“It shows leadership and it shows our commitment to reconciliation. I'm proud to work for an organization that will be on the right side of history,” she said.
“If we're going to have a better future for our children, whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous, we need to talk about this, we need to learn about it and we need to acknowledge it.”
Saskatoon has a calendar of events for September highlighting the legacy of residential schools through education and participation, including virtual and COVID-safe events. The calendar can be found here: https://www.saskatoon.ca/community-culture-heritage/cultural-diversity/indigenous-initiatives/annual-events.
Regina postponed events scheduled for Sept. 30 because of COVID-19, but mayor Sandra Masters said it’s important for the City to, “create space to elevate and advocate for shared learning, knowledge and commemoration.”
Treaty Commissioner Mary Culbertson said individuals are responsible for respecting the holiday as a time to learn the history of the land we live on.
“Like Remembrance Day, our veterans make sure that we never forget. Our country supports them. Our people support them. I can see this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation being supported the same way,” said Culbertson.
She also insists reconciliation is everyone’s responsibility and it’s intergenerational.
“Just like we have intergenerational harms and intergenerational traumas, we have intergenerational healing.”
Saskatoon has a website designed to guide individuals on their reconciliation journeys. It can be found here: https://www.beaconnectr.org/.