National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: How to reflect in the workplace

How to commemorate today with your employees

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: How to reflect in the workplace

Today, September 30, is the very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – a Canadian day of reflection to honour the Indigenous children who were taken from their homes and forced to attend residential schools. Many of these children were made to suffer through unimaginable emotional, sexual, and physical abuse.

Today is not a celebration – it’s a chance to reflect and consider how, as a society and as individuals, we can try to make amends for past mistakes. While today is not considered a public holiday, despite repeated calls from Indigenous leaders to make it so, many employers have opted to give their staff the day off work to attend marches and events in their provinces. So, what part can you play, as HR leaders, in furthering today’s cause?

Time to reflect  

“I would say that many of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada look at this day not as a celebration, but as a solemn event,” added Dr Raeleen Manjak, CHRO at the City of Vernon and recipient of HRD Canada’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

 “As we head into the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, it’s a time to reflect on the work that we’ve been doing at the City of Vernon regarding Indigenous awareness, cultural competency, human rights, anti-racism, and anti-oppression and communication across differences. This is a time to ask what reconciliation really means and what each of us can do to advance it. The answers will be different for everyone and really, the idea is not to be told, but to understand what the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission mean. It’s about finding yourself within the report and the documents and then to action that change.”

Understanding the past

Between 1863 and 1998, over 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and made to attend residential schools. The move devastated Indigenous communities, leaving the children and their families traumatized. Earlier this year, police uncovered mass graves outside of old residential homes – graves containing remains of children. The discovery led to a mass outcry, with Parliament announcing the creation of the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation just days after.

“It’s a day to further understanding” added Manjak. “If you start with the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Call to Action each reader will begin to understand the history, experiences, and aspirations of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. This report provides 94 areas that everyone should understand, which include the history of Crown-Indigenous relations and the residential school system to name just two. The report begins with this statement: ‘In order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes the following calls to action.’ Short, succinct, and staid.”

How to reflect at work

If your team is in the workplace today, it’s important that you take some time to recognize the importance of today.

  • Read: Discover e-books and resources that share culture, histories, lands and languages of Indigenous communities;
  • Listen: Experience descriptive storytelling through podcasts and audio clips;
  • Watch: View intriguing visuals and movies from Indigenous artists; and
  • Try: Enjoy crafts and multimedia activities

“One of the simplest ways to show support on September 30, is to wear orange,” Manjak told HRD. “Before being officially recognized by the federal government, this date was known as Orange Shirt Day - inspired by the story of Phyllis Jack Webstad who on her first day at residential school in William’s Lake, BC was stripped of the new orange shirt her grandmother had bought for her. If you can, participate in an event, take time to learn the history, and most importantly, be kind, respectful, and considerate to members of the Indigenous communities. This is time of refection. For many, it is a time of sorrow and grief.”

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