Statement on National Truth and Reconciliation Day

In June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its findings and 94 Calls to Action to redress the residential schools’ legacy and advance meaningful reconciliation in Canada. The Calls to Action are the survivors’ workplan for the country and are directed at all levels of government, the private sector, professionals and to Canadians as a whole.

In February 2018, the City of Ottawa’s Reconciliation Action Plan was approved. This plan addresses the TRC Calls to Action and confirms the City’s commitment to reconciliation. The plan is a direct result of a relationship built on trust and collaboration between the City, the Algonquin Anishinabe Host Nation, Indigenous communities in Ottawa and many community partners.

I am honoured to announce today – on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – that a commemorative plaque will be installed at 61 Sparks Street with the unveiling scheduled for September 2022. This historic commemoration is in collaboration with the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada and the City of Ottawa’s Arts and Heritage Development Branch as part of the Reconciling History Initiative identified within the City's Reconciliation Action Plan. This plaque is one step towards meeting the TRC Calls to Action to acknowledge and commemorate survivors in Ottawa and capital cities across the country.

61 Sparks Street is the building which housed James Hope & Sons Publishing. In 1922, Dr. P.H. Bryce, former Chief Health Inspector of the Indian Department, self-published his manuscript, “The Story of a National Crime” there after he was forced from public service for blowing the whistle on the health abuses suffered by Indigenous students in residential schools. It detailed the high rates of death among Indigenous children attending residential schools and how the government failed to prevent their deaths.

A National Crime chronicled Dr. P.H. Bryce’s reports, going back as far as 1907, on the conditions of residential schools delivered to the Department of Indian Affairs in his capacity as chief medical officer. Although Dr. P.H. Bryce made recommendations to improve conditions of the schools, they were quashed by Deputy Minister Duncan Campbell Scott who was intent on the department’s goal “to get rid of the Indian problem”. Others in government also refused Bryce’s pleas for action. 100 years later, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said that the Indian residential school system amounted to cultural genocide.

Nearly a century after his 1922 book was published, the unmarked graves of thousands of children who attended these residential schools are being discovered – a truth that many residential school survivors testified about during the TRC. The “National Crime” continues as far too many Indigenous children are born into poverty rooted in historical and ongoing colonialism and as a result too often ending up in a child welfare system far from home. Now, more than ever, Canadians should acknowledge and learn about the past in ways that link lessons of history to contemporary injustices.

Today is also Orange Shirt Day, to witness and honour residential school survivors and the children who never came home. The “orange shirt” in Orange Shirt Day refers to the new orange shirt that Phyllis Webstad was given by her grandmother to wear for her first day of school in 1973 at St. Joseph's Mission residential school. When Phyllis got to school, they took away her clothes, including her new shirt. It was never returned. To quote Phyllis: “The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying, and no one cared.”

We call on citizens of Ottawa to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s reports and take action to implement them so we can end the injustices and co-create a society that acts like Every Child Matters!

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