September 30th, 2022 marks the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day has been commemorated in previous years as Orange Shirt Day, originally started in 2013 by Phyllis Webstad. Both the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day offer an opportunity to reflect upon, acknowledge and recognize the experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, past and present, and to take meaningful steps towards learning about and commemorating the truth of our history from First Nations, Inuit and Métis knowledge keepers as an important part of the path to reconciliation.

Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots day to commemorate the experiences of Indigenous children in residentials schools, to witness and honour the journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. It is estimated that between 4,000 – 6,000 Indigenous children died at residential schools (with efforts underway to determine exactly how many), with the last residential school closing in 1996 (more here). Locally, the Red Deer Industrial School operated from 1893 to 1919, and had one of the highest child mortality rates of any school (more here). 

Orange Shirt Day offers a dedicated time to reflect and learn about residential schools, to connect history with ongoing injustices against Indigenous Peoples in the present day, and to commit to taking positive action. The designation of September 30th as National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR) marks one step towards the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action. The date was declared a statutory federal holiday with the passage of Bill C-5 in June of 2021, in response to Call to Action 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

For the Red Deer River Watershed Alliance, we acknowledge that there is no reconciliation without truth; there is no reconciliation without a commitment to listen and bear witness. We recommend that all of our community members and partners read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s landmark final report, beginning with the Introduction section (pages 1- 23). 

We also encourage you to enroll in Indigenous Canada, a free 12-lesson Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) developed by the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta that explores the different histories and contemporary perspectives of Indigenous peoples living in Canada. From an Indigenous perspective, this course explores complex experiences Indigenous peoples face today from a historical and critical perspective highlighting national and local Indigenous-settler relations.

The documentary film, Water: The Sacred Relationship, is another important resource for these discussions. The filmmakers ask: Can water be the common ground that begins to reconcile the relationship between Indigenous People and the rest of Canada?

The RDRWA also recognizes that reconciliation is a verb, requiring real action. We know that wearing orange shirts, while an important act of allyship, can never be enough. The Red Deer River watershed spans Treaty Seven and Treaty Six lands, and is home to Region Three of the Alberta Métis Nation. At the core, the RDRWA’s work in watershed management is about land, about water, and about the people who make up our communities. We are committed to listening to, learning from, and building trust with Indigenous communities. We would like to offer our ongoing commitment to help safeguard water and watersheds as a symbol of our commitment towards active reconciliation. We offer this commitment in the spirit of partnership, while recognizing the autonomy and leadership of Indigenous Peoples. We are also committed to learning from the waters, the lands, the wildlife and ecosystems, that form the Red Deer River watershed. 

On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, we invite you to join us, as we seek to listen, learn, and respectfully reflect on truths shared. Just as our rivers and waters are connected, so are we too, and it is vital to continue to work together towards reconciliation.