Sept. 28, 2021

What You Can Do as a Settler Canadian on National Truth and Reconciliation Day

The UCalgary Psychology Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Blog

On Thursday September 30th, the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will take place. In response, the University of Calgary has announced the closure of all operations including classes, labs, and other course components on this day. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a day for Canadians to collectively commemorate and acknowledge the painful history and continued detrimental impacts of residential schools on Indigenous peoples in what is now known as Canada. The creation of this holiday is one of the 94 calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and recognizes the thousands of children who were taken from their homes to attend residential schools, many of whom never returned. As a country, this day is intended to create the conditions where “Every Child Matters”.

As an institution that is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion, it is critical for our campus community to reflect on the historical and current harms committed against Indigenous peoples through residential schools, acknowledge ongoing inequalities and Canada’s settler-colonial and White supremacist foundations, and take both individual and collective action to improve justice and equity for Indigenous peoples.

Prior to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), few postsecondary institutions formally acknowledged or took action to recognize the harm committed through residential schools. As many institutions start to adopt the recommendations from the TRC, awareness is building both about the history of genocide committed against Indigenous peoples in our country as well as steps that need to be taken for reconciliation and reclamation for Indigenous peoples. As White Canadian settlers ourselves, we acknowledge that it can be hard to know where to start, even when we are committed to reconciliation and Indigenous allyship. We also acknowledge that the process of learning, unlearning, and relearning to commit to truth and reconciliation is ongoing. Here we offer our suggestions for tangible actions for settlers that can be taken as beginner steps in the truth and reconciliatory process.

  1. Acknowledge the day with others and sit in the discomfort

An important part of the National Truth and Reconciliation Day is to acknowledge it with other settlers. This is a first step towards “truth”. Acknowledge the day with those around you and have an open discussion about what it means to you. For settlers, these conversations can be challenging and uncomfortable because they force individuals to come to terms with atrocities that were committed against Indigenous peoples in our country. Yet, experiencing this discomfort can be an important catalyst for change. Some ways in which this can be done include:

  • Sharing an email with your students about National Truth and Reconciliation Day, resources, and events.
  • Attending an event with your classmates (see below for more information).
  • Dedicating personal time to consider how you might contribute to the TRC calls to action.
  • Set aside some time to write your local MLA and MP about changes you would like to see with regards to the implementation of the TRC calls to action. A template letter can be found here.  
  1. Learn about Treaty 7 and Make Land Acknowledgments

The majority of members at the University of Calgary are settlers on this land. Set aside some time to learn about the people of Treaty 7 and their history. Become familiar with the importance of creating and givingmeaningful land acknowledgements. Spend some time to think and reflect on your own connection to the land and your gratitude for those who have cared for it before you.

  1. Wear an Orange T-shirt and Source T-Shirts from Equitable Places

As part of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we are encouraged to wear orange t-shirts to demonstrate our acknowledgement of residential schools and commitment that every child matters. If you have the resources and want to purchase a t-shirt, make sure the t-shirt comes from an Indigenous organization, and that the funds benefit Indigenous groups or artists, (like the Orange Shirt Society) rather than a corporation.

  1. Attend a National Truth and Reconciliation Day Event

The University of Calgary and Office for Indigenous Engagement will be hosting multiple virtual events on September 30th as part of the National Truth and Reconciliation Day. These are opportunities to become informed and show support for our Indigenous students and colleagues. There are also events within Calgary that are being hosted that staff and students can attend.

  1. Read and review the Calls to Action from the TRC as well as the Canadian Psychological Associations Report and Response.

If you have not read or reviewed the Truth and Reconciliations Calls to Action or the report and responsefrom the Canadian Psychological Association, take some time on the 30th to review these and make a plan for action of how you can include at least one of these recommendations in your work and practice.

  1. Read up and learn about being an ally to Indigenous communities

Being an ally refers to using your privilege and power to help promote the wellbeing of marginalized groups. However, allyship is nuanced and it is important to consider how it is expressed. A previous EDI blog addressed the issue of being an Indigenous ally. You can also listen to a podcast where Dr. Adam Murry speaks specifically about Indigenous allyship and answers key questions about what it is and isn’t.