The Queen sends a message to Canadians to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

By Zach Harper

The Queen has sent a message to Canadians to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which remembers Indigenous children lost in residential schools and recognizes the system's legacy and impacts.

"I join with all Canadians on this first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to reflect on the painful history that Indigenous peoples endured in residential schools in Canada, and on the work that remains to heal and continue to build an inclusive society," she said in a statement to Governor General Mary Simon, who is Canada's first Indigenous vice-regent.

The Governor General and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also made their own statements.

"As we strive to acknowledge the horrors of the past, the suffering inflicted on Indigenous peoples, let us all stand side-by-side with grace and humility, and work together to build a better future for all," the Governor General said.

"The tragic locating of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country has reminded us of not only the impacts of colonialism and the harsh realities of our collective past, but also the work that is paramount to advancing reconciliation in Canada," the prime minister said.

The Toronto Zoo was inviting visitors to participate in smudging ceremonies in partnership with Native Child and Family Services Toronto on Sept. 30. Photo: © Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The federal government opted to make Sept. 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation after the discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country earlier this year. A formal holiday recognizing the impact of the residential school system was one of the 94 calls to action made by the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.

The residential school system operated throughout Canada from the 19th century through to 1996, when the last school closed. In the system, Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their parents and sent to schools throughout the country. While at these schools, children were forbidden to speak their Indigenous languages or engage in Indigenous cultural practices. Many went through significant physical, emotional, sexual and psychological abuse, the legacy of which continues to affect survivors and their families and communities to this day. Many children did not survive.

Indigenous peoples and allies gathered on Parliament Hill for ceremonies being held during the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Photo: © LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images

More than 150,000 children were placed in the system throughout its existence, according to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. It is estimated between 3,200 to 30,000 children died in the schools. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's 2015 report called the system "cultural genocide."

Sept. 30 is also Orange Shirt Day, which is intended to educate people about the residential school system and its impacts on survivors and their families. Canadians are encouraged to wear orange shirts in solidarity with survivors.

How you can take part in the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

There are some simple ways you can educate yourself about the legacy of residential schools in Canada and help push reconciliation forward, Indigenous advocates say.

Learn about the 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released a report into the residential school system in which it made 94 calls to action. These involved calling on federal, provincial and municipal governments to make specific changes to policies and more in order to move towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples throughout Canada.

If you're not familiar with them or need a refresher, you can read all 94 calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Report itself.

Some of these calls to action have been completed, while others have not started, are in progress or have stalled. If you'd like to learn more about what's been happening and what changes have been made, you can check out CBC's Beyond 94 interactive feature. It examines all 94 calls to action in depth and analyzes them.

Learn about how residential schools affected your community

Canadians were shocked this spring when the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc First Nation discovered unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia. Many more such sites have been discovered since. Many Canadians have heard of the residential school system, but may not know whether there was a residential school near their home.

CBC has an interactive feature that allows you to input your address and find out whether there was a residential school near where you lived. It also allows you to enter a year, and see if a school was still open near you or had closed by that time.

Learn about the land you are on

Many of us have likely attended events during which an acknowledgement is made which recognizes the Indigenous history and connection to the land where the event is taking place.

If you'd like to learn more about the history of the land you are on, one option is the app Whose Land, which was created by Haudenosaunee developer Mitch Holmes. It allows people to see traditional Indigenous territories, along with treaty agreements that were signed and much more. It is available for iOS and Android.

Read, watch and take a course

There is no shortage of books written by Indigenous peoples on the legacy of the residential school system and Indigenous histories.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga examines the deaths of seven Indigenous teenagers in Thunder Bay, Ont. and the connections to residential schools in the community.

The Orange Shirt Story and Phyllis's Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad examine the Northern Secwepemc author's residential school story and how Orange Shirt Day came to be.

The late Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese was well known for his novel Indian Horse, a story about a boy who survives a residential school and goes on to become a professional hockey player. It has since been turned into a movie.

Shania Twain has narrated a new documentary called For Love, which is about how the foster care system has affected Indigenous children. It premieres Sept. 30 and examines how advocates say foster care is an extension of the residential schools system.

Dan Levy has been outspoken about taking the University of Alberta's Indigenous Canada course. The free, 12-lesson, online course examines Indigenous creation stories and worldviews, cultures and history, including the residential school system. It also looks at issues faced by Indigenous women and girls, and the way forward through reconciliation, among other topics.

Dan took the course in 2020 and called it "transformational." Since then, he's urged fans to enrol and also conducted fundraising campaigns for the faculty.

Attend Indigenous-led events in your community

There are many in-person commemorations being held across the country on Sept. 30 and throughout Truth and Reconciliation Week (which runs until Oct. 1).

The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation are part of Truth and Reconciliation Week, which is a five-day event for Canadian schools. It has a variety of programming from workshops to videos for students from grades five to 12 across the country and runs until Oct. 1. If you're unable to leave the house, CBC will carry a primetime TV broadcast at 8 p.m. local time (or 9 p.m. Atlantic Time, 9:30 p.m. in Newfoundland). Hosted by JUNO winner Elisapie, the one-hour special will feature Indigenous ceremonies and musical tributes.

Don't miss a beat with HELLO! Canada's Daily Hits newsletter, your daily dose of royal and celebrity news, fashion, weddings and more. CLICK HERE to sign up for free!