St. Joseph’s Health System message for Orange Shirt Day and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Thursday Sept. 30th is Orange Shirt Day and the first official National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is a day for all of us to recognize, reflect and generate awareness about the trauma and legacy of the residential school system in Canada.

Orange Shirt Day began in 2013, when Phyllis Webstad, from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, first told her story of attending residential school, where the new orange shirt her grandmother had given her for school was stripped from her. Since that day, September 30th has been recognized across Canada as Orange Shirt Day, an opportunity to discuss in a meaningful way the effects of residential schools.

This year, the Government of Canada legislated September 30th as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It follows one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations, which calls for the government to work with Indigenous people to develop a day to “honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process”.

Of the TRC’s 94 recommendations, six are connected to the identification of missing children and their burial sites. The TRC report notes that thousands of children died while in residential schools. This was made very clear to us this spring with the discovery of the bodies of 215 children in an unmarked grave on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. More than 1,000 graves have been found near residential schools in Canada since May of this year.

Why is it important to state this? Because we need to speak this truth, learn more about it, and listen to the survivors. It is a part of our history as Canadians. And as a Catholic healthcare institution, it is essential for us to recognize this past, and to find a way forward based on respect, openness, a strong commitment to listen, and a willingness to change.

The Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada stated in May: “It is not enough to see this tragedy simply as an event from the past. Catholics, in particular, are challenged to acknowledge how we, today, are connected to these deaths. How have we internalized the colonial assumptions and attitudes that have shaped our social, cultural, economic and political systems? Where have racist assumptions become rooted in our subconscious? What are we doing to decolonize our minds and hearts?”

Last week, the Catholic Bishops of Canada expressed “profound remorse” and apologized “unequivocally,” stating “We are fully committed to the process of healing and reconciliation.”

What you can do: I invite and encourage our St. Joseph’s Health System family to join in this journey toward healing and reconciliation. Many of our organizations have created opportunities for healthcare workers to learn more. Please seek these out. Many organizations will be holding a moment of silence to reflect on the loss and legacy of residential schools. Please join in this moment that recognizes Every Child Matters. Show your support – wear an orange shirt and/or buy an Orange Shirt button to demonstrate your interest and support.

Listen. Learn. These are small but tangible steps to begin building bridges toward reconciliation.

Ms. Winnie Doyle
Interim President and CEO
St. Joseph’s Health System