Message from Michael Gottheil, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission
(September 30, 2021)
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation 2021
Today is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a newly created federal holiday to mark the dark history and legacy of Canada's Indian Residential School system.
In previous years, September 30 has been known as "Orange Shirt Day," where people all over Canada wear orange shirts to commemorate the survivors of residential schools and mourn those who did not survive. The adoption of the orange shirt as a symbol of commemoration stems from Phyllis Webstad, a member of the Stswecem'c Xgat'tem First Nation, whose grandmother bought her a new orange shirt to wear on her first day of residential school in 1973. Upon arriving at the school, Phyllis's cherished orange shirt was taken away from her by school authorities, replaced with a uniform, and she never wore or even saw it again. Phyllis's heartbreaking excitement about getting new school clothes, a ritual many families participate in every August, is a powerful metaphor for the widespread loss of hope and culture that the residential school system represented for so many Indigenous people in Canada.
As an organization and a society, we all have a lot of important work ahead of us on the long road to reconciliation. The Alberta Human Rights Commission is committed to moving forward on that road in the best way we can.
While the Alberta Government has not formally legislated September 30 as a provincial statutory holiday, the Commission has decided to dedicate time today to learn more about Indian Residential Schools. As part of our Indigenous Human Rights Strategy, announced earlier this year, we are committed to meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action #57, which is to provide deeper training and learning opportunities for our staff on Indigenous history, culture, and current issues. In the coming months, we will be developing training for staff that is led and provided by various Indigenous teachers. In addition to garnering a deeper understanding of the residential school system, this training will explore how history impacts our work today and ways in which our organization can better support Indigenous people who face discrimination.
In August, we completed our selection process for our new Indigenous Advisory Circle and today we are very pleased to announce the names of the Circle members. We were thrilled to receive so many Expressions of Interest from Indigenous people across the province and are grateful to everyone who took the time to submit. This Advisory Circle will be helping us to implement our Indigenous Human Rights Strategy over the coming months and years.
As we transition into the cooler weather and another pandemic winter, I hope you, your families, and your communities are able to stay safe and healthy, both physically and mentally. Let's continue to support each other and remember: respect, learning, kindness, and perseverance are the only remedies to discrimination.