By Sol Mamakwa, MPP for Kiiwetinoong
Sept. 30, 2021 is Canada's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This day must mark a profound shift in the country's confrontation with its shameful mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples — a truth that Canada has, until recently, largely chosen to ignore.
Canada made it a policy to take First Nations children away from their homes and their families, and put them in residential schools with the aim to “beat the Indian out of the child.” They stole these children. They stole their hearts, their spirits, their language, their way of life, their childhoods and, in thousands of cases, their lives. Our children suffered violence, physical and sexual abuse, and malnutrition. Over the past year, the graves of more than 1,300 Indigenous children have been discovered at former residential school sites.
This is not ancient history. The last residential school closed in just 1997.
All First Nations people living in Ontario today are directly impacted by the residential school system. They were sent to one — as I was — or their parents or grandparents are survivors of the genocide of the residential school system.
So for First Nations people, the graves that were discovered in 2021 belong to our uncles, our brothers and sisters and our ancestors. They are the cousins who never got to come home, and the babies who never got to grow up. They are the graves of our communities’ precious children, whose parents never stopped looking for them.
This year has been so important to our healing journey. The stolen children were never secret in our First Nations. And that knowledge was heavy, because we were carrying it alone. We no longer are.
Now, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people want the truth brought to light. People want to learn what happened. They are backing our calls for searches, for records to be released, for apologies and for lasting systemic change. We are speaking with a more unified voice when we say we want the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be implemented.
One of those calls is to declare Sept. 30 a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. To dedicate this day to remembrance, reflection, and education. A day to hold governments and institutions accountable. A day for governments of all levels to make commitments and take action to move back towards the path of reconciliation — a path Canada has long since walked away from.
I believe we must make Sept. 30 not only a day to mark on social media, but a statutory day away from work for all Ontarians. Let’s entrench this day’s solemn meaning while the pain of discovering the graves of more than 1,300 Indigenous children is still with us. While the makeshift memorial to those stolen little ones still sits on the front steps of Queen’s Park.
It should be a day for public events of mourning and reflection. It should be a day to gather in ceremony, to hold powwows, and to invite non-Indigenous people and the next generation to learn and to grow. It should be a day that grows in size and meaning until everyone living on this land holds the legacy of residential schools in their hearts and in their minds.
I believe most Ontarians want to be on the right side of history.
So far, Premier Doug Ford and Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford have refused to make Sept. 30 a province-wide statutory day. This is a mistake. This is how reconciliation gets moved to the backburner by governments.
If the government fails to properly acknowledge the theft of thousands of our children, it is part of the problem. If thousands of non-Indigenous children had died after being stolen forcibly from their parents and communities, this would not be a debate.
Of course, making Sept. 30 a provincial stat is only one step in the enormous amount of work governments must undertake to achieve reconciliation. There is much to be done to ensure justice, equity and dignity for Indigenous people. We need to ensure all communities have access to clean drinking water, create equitable access to health care and education, fix the broken child welfare system and much more.
The moment for progress is now.