September 30, 2021 marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to honour and remember the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families, and communities. This National Day for Truth and Reconciliation coincides with Orange Shirt Day. Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, a Survivor of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School, shared her story of her brand new orange shirt being stripped from her on her first day at SJM Residential School when she was six years old.
Federally funded Indian Residential Schools operated in this country as recently as 1996, and their impact has been felt by many in our community. It is important to take this day as an opportunity to have meaningful conversations about the legacy of residential schools in this country, and to learn more about how to be a part of reconciliation.
Before Camp Big Canoe there was Camp Ahshunyoong which, at one point, was operated on Georgina Island on Lake Simcoe. It was there that then Chief of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation, Lorenzo (Bud) Big Canoe, aided in transporting campers, food and supplies back and forth between the island and the mainland. When Camp Ahshunyoong was incorporated as a not-for-profit by the United Church of Canada and moved to its current location in 1968, on the unceded lands of the Mississauga and Anishinabewaki First Nations, the camp was renamed Camp Big Canoe in honour of Lorenzo (Bud) Big Canoe, who lit the first campfire at the new site, and the camp continues to have ties to the Big Canoe family. The closest Indian Residential School to the new site, Mohawk Institute in Brantford, would remain in operation for another two years after Camp Big Canoe’s first campfire at Hart Lake.
We have always been proud of our connection to the Big Canoe family and Georgina Island First Nation, but there is much more to be done to fully honour and understand our responsibility as treaty people and the duty and care that has been entrusted to us.
We are reminded today that we are called to action to be a part of reconciliation, and we have a responsibility to learn what that means in our context.
We are still at the very beginning of this journey. A newly formed committee of our Board of Directors have initiated the conversation of how to address the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. That work is ongoing, but some of the ways we are participating today are:
– Wearing an orange shirt, particularly one that is purchased directly from an Indigenous maker or from a business donating their proceeds back to Indian Residential School Survivor or Indigenous-led initiatives – Making donations directly to Orange Shirt Society or other organizations directly supporting IRS Survivors, their families, and communities – Reading the Truth and Reconciliation report or calls to action here
This article was compiled using information from www.native-land.ca, www.georginaisland.com, www.orangeshirtday.org and Residential School Interactive Map (The Canadian Encyclopedia)