National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
September 29, 2023
On September 30, we will recognize Canada’s third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation which honours the thousands of lost children and the survivors of residential schools, their families and their Indigenous communities.
What is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?
This public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impact of the residential schools, the last of which only closed in 1996, is a vital component to the reconciliation process in Canada.
The new Federal statutory holiday was created in 2021 through legislative amendments made by Parliament. On June 3, 2021, Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation) received Royal Assent.
The day is appropriately shared with Orange Shirt Day, first celebrated in 2013, which is an Indigenous-led grassroots initiative related to the experience of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. On her first day of school in 1973, Phyllis arrived dressed proudly in a new orange shirt her grandmother had given her. The shirt was taken away and never returned. The orange shirt is now considered a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced from Indigenous children over generations.
There were 140 Federally-run Indian Residential Schools that operated in Canada between 1831 and 1998. Survivors have advocated for recognition and reparations and demanded accountability for the lasting legacy of harm caused. These efforts culminated in:
- the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement
- apologies by the Government of Canada
- the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- the creation of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission ran from 2008 to 2015 and provided those directly and indirectly affected by the legacy of the Residential Schools policy with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation has become the permanent archive for the statements, documents and other materials the Commission gathered, and its library and collections are the foundation for ongoing learning and research.
The Commission released its final report detailing 94 calls to action. The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is a direct response to Call to Action 80, which called for a Federal day of commemoration.
Why is the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation of Particular Significance to Koskie Minsky LLP?
As you may know, this day is particularly significant to us because Koskie Minsky has a proud track record of pursuing access to justice on behalf of thousands of Indigenous persons in Canada.
Our Firm was Plaintiffs’ counsel in the first decision ever in Canada to certify a class proceeding against the Federal Government on behalf of residential school survivors (Cloud v. Canada). That decision led to the 2005 Pan-Canadian Indian Residential Schools Settlement which was designed to provide financial compensation to survivors but also included commemoration and healing initiatives, not to mention the establishment of Canada’s first Truth & Reconciliation Commission. The largest class action settlement in Canadian history, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, recognized the common and shared damage inflicted on Indigenous peoples by residential schools and established a multi-billion-dollar fund to help former students in their recovery. Over $3.6 billion was set aside for damages and $60 million for the establishment of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission to raise public awareness, record stories of survivors and act as a depository for close to one million documents from Canada related to IRS. The legacy of the Commission’s Calls To Action reverberate across Canada and throughout governments at all levels to this day.
Koskie Minsky was also Plaintiffs’ counsel on behalf of Sixties Scoop survivors across Canada. In 2018, a national settlement was negotiated and approved by the Federal Court which set aside $750 million to compensate First Nations and Inuit children who were removed from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous foster or adoptive parents leading to a loss of culture and identity for thousands of indigenous persons (Riddle v. Canada). Between 2007 and 2015, the Firm also acted on behalf of Inuit persons in Newfoundland and Labrador who had attended residential schools but had been left out of the 2005 Pan-Canadian settlement. After four months of trial, Canada settled the case for $50 million after arguing for nearly a decade that it bore no responsibility for the Inuit in that province on constitutional grounds (Anderson v. Canada). Today the Firm continues this legacy by acting on behalf of the Metis for their removal as children from their indigenous families and parents over a course of decades and were appointed Class Counsel by the Federal Court in 2019 to prosecute this action.
Most recently, we were appointed class counsel in 2020 and are currently acting in the pan-Canadian class action against the Federal Government with regard to negligence and breach of fiduciary duties in operating the so-called “Indian Hospitals” system, which was a segregated health care system operating until the early 1980s. Survivors recount stories of sexual violence, physical abuse, forced confinement, including being tied to a hospital bed for prolonged periods, forced isolation from families and surgeries without anesthesia.
While the Firm has done much important work in this area, there remains much to be done going forward in our collective Canadian efforts to reach a place of true and meaningful reconciliation with all indigenous persons, from coast to coast to coast.
To whom will KM Donate in Recognition of the 2023 National Day of Truth and Reconciliation?
In recognition of the 2023 National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, KM is pleased to make a donation to Anduhyaun, a not-for-profit agency established in 1973 and based on downtown Toronto that provides culturally-sensitive emergency shelter, second-stage housing and crisis resources for Indigenous women and their children who have experienced domestic violence and are leaving abusive situations. Anduhyaun is a women-run organization with Indigenous women and their allies as management, staff and community partners. For more information, visit https://anduhyaun.org/.
How Can I Learn More About the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation?
There are many ways you can engage, in person and online, with the various activities and events that are planned in our region and across the country. I encourage all of you to take some time to learn more about the tragic stories behind this shameful part of Canadian history and reflect on the significance of this day.
Here are some websites you may wish to visit: