National Truth and Reconciliation Day, also known as “Orange Shirt Day” across Canada, is a time for us to pause, reflect, and think about the work towards open and honest discourse on issues impacting Indigenous peoples and communities. It’s also an opportunity to think about the work that’s been done, is being done right now, and the work ahead that needs to be planned and carried out towards the goal of reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples. Marking this day with shared ceremonies, with meaningful discussions, and renewal of commitments is important. But we cannot and must not stop there.
What is truth when it comes to Canada’s colonial history? A shared foundation of truth is what makes it possible to chart a path towards reconciliation. It’s why the reckoning of recent years – on residential schools and their atrocities, the sixties scoop, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has been a painful but necessary step. We must continue to engage in this work – both towards creating spaces and opportunities for Indigenous peoples and communities to heal, and for Canada and Canadians to learn about the structures, like policing, social and health systems, and governance, that continue to uphold colonial ideas and policie and the violence of intergenerational trauma embedded in them.
If we can continue to walk a path of truth, we can begin to see the actions necessary to move towards reconciliation and a different future for younger generations and generations still to come, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. Only truth can guide the actions needed to chart a different future. And those actions, the actions needed to heal from and interrupt patterns of colonial violence, are clearer than ever.
To us, the work of reconciliation looks like: Indigenous self-governance and self-determination of societal structures and systems. Revitalizing and reaffirming Indigenous language rights, land rights, and human rights within Canada’s existing legal structures. Imagining and building new kinds of relationships – between individuals, between community groups and organizations, and between governments and Indigenous nations and peoples. Forging alliances to disrupt and dismantle Canada’s colonization machine – its laws, policies and culture.
For Alliance members, our actions over the last year include an updated Indigenous Health in Indigenous Hands resolution approved at our 2023 Annual General Meeting, which calls on the Alliance and its members to build safer environments for Indigenous peoples by incorporating the recommendations presented in the Ne’iikaaniganaa “All My Relations” Toolkit. The resolution also reaffirms Alliance members’ commitment to the principles of health equity and reconciliation, by ensuring all community governor board members and health organization staff are offered Indigenous Cultural Safety training.
Earlier this week, the Alliance signed a new agreement with the Indigenous Primary Health Care Council (IPHCC) to reshape and strengthen the ties between the two organizations and our members, some of whom are members of both groups. This was the result of a deliberate and intentional process, guided by Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, with the shared goal of Indigenous self-governance and determination in health care. This is a key step the Alliance is taking with our partners at IPHCC this year, to advance Indigenous health in Indigenous hands, and to shape our respective organizations into the structures that can best advance and deliver on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. In particular, on health care, we are seeking to lay a strong advocacy and policy foundation that can support building Indigenous-led health systems where Indigenous people are able to attain the best possible health and wellbeing available in Canada.
We can make no mistake – progress is not linear. Anti-Indigenous racism, both within health care itself, and in other sectors and Canadian society at large, still present significant challenges. The ongoing impacts of intergenerational trauma continue to contribute to social fraying. Ongoing IDLING by governments, including the federal government on clean drinking water for many communities, and on land claims, continue to hinder our collective progress towards reconciliation.
But we are not powerless, nor can we claim to be ignorant. Seeing the truth, and acting on it with love, compassion and a strong thirst for justice, can and will take us to a different and reconciled future. It’s up to each and everyone of us, as individuals and in our organizations, to walk the path together, especially when it gets hard. We wish everyone a meaningful day today that points to actions in support of reconciliation.