Canada is observing the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The new federal statutory holiday is on Thursday, Sept. 30. It coincides with the previously popularized Orange Shirt Day, a grassroots Indigenous movement that discusses the legacy of residential schools in Canada.
The past few months have been traumatic for Indigenous peoples’ across Turtle Island, a name used by some Indigenous groups to describe North America. The terrifying reality of residential schools came to light for many Canadians this summer; a reality that Indigenous people have carried for decades.
Although National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is recognized as a statutory holiday federally, it is marked as a day of commemoration in British Columbia. According to the province, “public services will remain open” but “most schools, post-secondary institutions, some health sector workplaces, and Crown corporations will be closed.”
There are several ways to honour this somber holiday in the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa and Secwépemc, Sinixt, Syilx, peoples, also known as Revelstoke.
The Indigenous Friendship Society of Revelstoke hosts a day of Truth and Reconciliation
While many businesses are choosing to close on Sept. 30, the BC Interior Forestry Museum is teaming up with the Indigenous Friendship Society of Revelstoke (IFSR) for a day of reflection, education and connection. Along the banks of the Columbia River, the IFSR are transforming the Riverside Forest Walk into a self-guided tour and exhibit.
For a more hands-on experience, there is a Medicine Walk at 11 a.m. with Christy Shaw, a Revelstoke-based herbalist and ethnobiologist. The tour will identify and explain the healing properties of local plants. This activity has limited spots; to register for the Medicine Walk, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-837-8078.
At 2:15 p.m., join the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (Kamloops Indian Band) in a Call to Drums for the missing children of Indian Residential Schools. Like the self-guided tour, the Call to Drums will also take place along the Riverside Forest Walk.
— Tk’emlúpsTeSecwépemc (@Tkemlups) September 20, 2021
Honouring, remembering, and healing in Revelstoke classrooms
This week, classrooms are buzzing with discussion about truth, reconciliation and Indigenous cultures. Although Revelstoke School District #19 is closing all four schools on Sept. 30, students and teachers are observing the holiday on Sept. 29.
Across the district, students are donning orange shirts and observing a moment of silence, reflecting on the legacy of residential schools and the Indian Act.
Additionally, the Indigenous Education Department for the Revelstoke School District is leading smudging ceremonies on Sept. 29; including Arrow Heights Elementary, Begbie View Elementary, Columbia Park Elementary, and Revelstoke Secondary School.
As Erin England, a teacher in the Indigenous Education Department explains, smudging is a healing ceremony that uses the smoke from traditional medicinal plants to provide a “reset.” She adds that they chose sage for the school ceremonies due to its cleansing properties.
“We’re smudging because it is often part of something that people do to clear away some negative feelings that they’ve been holding on to,” elaborates England, adding that now is an opportune time to “work through” past history and current events.
When asked for advice about observing Truth and Reconciliation outside the classroom, England’s voice began to crack from emotion.
“I would take time to appreciate my family, and recognize that a lot of this is coming from families being torn apart,” notes England, carefully taking a moment to breathe and regroup.
“This is really important healing that needs to be done on both sides as a direct result of federal legislation. I think that also it’s important for everybody, regardless of whether you’re Indigenous or not, to give yourself space and time to feel whatever you end up feeling that day.”
Celebrating Indigenous culture through art
Beyond the mournful tone of this holiday, it is also a time to celebrate and highlight the beauty of Canada’s Indigenous cultures. Now, there is broader Indigenous representation in Revelstoke’s art scene.
During last weekend’s LUNA Reimagined, Arts Revelstoke unveiled a new Art Allery featuring the work of Sinixt artist Ric Gendron. Previously declared ‘extinct’ by the Canadian government in 1956, the Canadian Supreme Court overturned the extinction declaration in April 2021, finally recognizing the Sinixt in Canada. Gendron’s aptly-titled mural “Coming Home” reflects this emotional landmark. The two-part painting displays Sinixt people in the past and present, exploring their longstanding connections to this region.
For the unveiling of “Coming Home,” Sinixt leader Shelly Boyd shared this heartfelt explanation of the painting’s significance for reconciliation:
“Coming Home” is located in the Art Allery between Mackenzie Ave. and Connaught Ave.
Learn more about Rick Gendron and the fight for Sinixt rights in Canada here:
In addition to Gendron’s new painting, there are other Indigenous artists to check out and support in Revelstoke.
Ariel Hill, an Indigenous glassblower from the Six Nations and Wikwemikong First Nations currently has a display at the Artfirst! Gallery in downtown Revelstoke. The Revelstoke Visual Art Center gift shop also features traditional Indigenous beaded jewelry by Elaine Auger.