How the McMaster community observed National Truth and Reconciliation Day
On Sept. 30 the McMaster community observed the second annual Truth and Reconciliation Day with on-campus gatherings, an educational panel and Indigenous artwork
On Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, the McMaster University community observed Truth and Reconciliation Day. The federal holiday was first established in 2021 to honour the victims, survivors and all members of the Indigenous community affected by the painful history of Canadian residential schools. This is the second year Canada has observed Truth and Reconciliation Day as a national holiday.
Truth and Reconciliation Day coincides with the previously established Orange Shirt Day, which is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day honouring all Indigenous children taken from their homes and put into residential schools.
Orange Shirt Day commemorates survivor Phyllis Jack Webstad’s experience being stripped of her new orange shirt on her first day of residential school. The orange shirt is now used to represent how Indigenous students had their identities stripped away from them by the residential school system.
While other Canadian provinces designated Sept. 30th as a statutory holiday, Ontario did not.
Several events were planned approaching Truth and Reconciliation Day, including a virtual tour of the Mohawk Institute Residential school as well as a recorded panel discussion hosted by the Indigenous Studies faculty.
The panel featured guest speakers Dr. Vanessa Watts, Dr. Mary Jane Logan McCallum and Dr. Lianne Leddy. It was moderated by the director of the McMaster Indigenous Research Institute, Dr. Savage Bear. They focused on the historical context behind the creation of the residential school system, as well as how these institutions were falsely contextualized in archives, using propaganda and the erasure of painful truths.
Additional to the informational panel, the MSU Diversity and Equity Network facilitated both social media-based and in-person informational campaigns leading up to Truth and Reconciliation Day. Infographics and informational resources were posted on the MSU Diversity Instagram.
Avantika Vaidya, a social and political advocacy coordinator for the MSU Diversity and Equity Network, described how, along with the advocacy role they played on social media, the social and political advocacy team also commissioned Indigenous muralist Kyle Joedicke to paint a piece to be displayed on the McMaster campus.
The piece is currently being displayed in the Peter George Centre for Living and Learning and will be later given to the Indigenous studies department. Vaidya explained the main goal of this project was to create a space of visible expression of Indigenous culture and bring that into the McMaster community.
“I think art in all forms is one of the only universal languages that ties in humans from across cultures and identities. I think that using this kind of medium as a celebration on the second year of Truth and Reconciliation Day seemed very appropriate, and we're excited that it was able to be carried out and is there for everyone to appreciate and understand its value,” said Vaidya.
Vaidya spoke on the importance of recognizing Truth and Reconciliation Day as a federal holiday. Although classes were canceled, campus was alive with vibrant celebrations and meaningful recognitions. Community members marched together, participated in painting an orange armour stone at the on-campus Indigenous Circle and gathered for a film screening of Indian Horse.
“I think when you explicitly create a day for recognition and when you announce it as such, it does create a space for opening up discussions amongst people who maybe aren't as informed of its significance and of its history.” said Vaidya.