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September 28, 2023
September 30th marks National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada. Established to acknowledge and remember the painful history of the country’s Indian Residential School system, this day is meant to be a time of reflection, learning, commemoration, and fostering understanding and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of this land.
In its 2015 report Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada wrote: Over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.”
The National Gallery of Canada adds its voice and support to the First Peoples of this land in honouring the survivors, commemorating those whose lives were lost and reflecting on the devastation to Indigenous communities caused by the Indian residential school system. Recognizing this painful history is a crucial step towards establishing a new form of dialogue and working towards conciliation.
For Indigenous peoples, it is a day of mourning and remembrance of the immense suffering of their relatives, their families and their communities as a result of the deliberate and horrific violence of the genocidal residential school system. For many Indigenous individuals and communities, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation can be a step towards healing and trauma resolution. Recognizing and discussing the traumatic past is an important part of the healing process for survivors and their descendants.
For non-Indigenous Canadians, this day is an opportunity to reflect on the immensity of the suffering caused by this history and the injustices in our society; to grieve with Indigenous peoples; and to challenge all who share this land to work for a better future. Reconciliation involves acknowledging past wrongs, addressing ongoing systemic issues, and working together to build respectful and meaningful relationships based on understanding and cooperation—within ourselves and our families, and in our communities, governments, places of worship, schools and workplaces.
The Indian Residential School system is a dark chapter in Canada’s history. The system aimed to erase Indigenous languages, cultures, and traditions, leading to deep and lasting intergenerational trauma within Indigenous communities. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation promotes the idea of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.
Our shared commitment to change and to be better will undoubtedly lead us towards a more just future for all and for the generations to come. So, on September 30th, the National Gallery of Canada joins with the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of this land in remembering, reflecting and encouraging justice and shared healing, every day, and in all we do.
We also take this opportunity to acknowledge the powerful words and thoughts of Indigenous artists and cultural practitioners who have helped to tell the stories of the residential schools and those so affected by them. The day is an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to come together in solidarity, fostering a sense of unity and shared responsibility for addressing the historical and present-day challenges faced by Indigenous communities and our shared journey of truth and reconciliation.
Steven Loft, Vice President, Indigenous Ways and Decolonization, National Gallery of Canada
Michelle LaVallee, Director, Indigenous Ways and Decolonization, National Gallery of Canada
Jean-François Bélisle, Director & CEO, National Gallery of Canada