Every year on September 30, Canada recognizes residential school victims and survivors on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also called Orange Shirt Day.
The day of remembrance acknowledges when children were taken from their homes and forced to live in boarding schools across Canada. There, they were prohibited from speaking their languages and often abused. These horrific events occurred from 1883 until 1996, when the last of the residential schools closed their doors.
To commemorate Orange Shirt Day 2023, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), a grantee partner of the Foundation, held several events for community members and Indigenous peoples to reflect.
The university raised the survivors’ flag on campus to honor all survivors, families and communities impacted by Canada’s residential school system. Participants also embarked on a silent walk while wearing orange shirts. Additionally, TMU acknowledged the stark difference between the “educational” institutions and experiences for non-Indigenous and Indigenous students.
Saije Catcheway, a Johnson Scholar and third-year TMU student pursuing business management and law, recently reflected on Orange Shirt Day during an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
“I see Indigenous people as huge healers,” said Catcheway, who is also on TMU’s varsity women’s hockey team. “I think that our new generation is big for healing—and not just shining a light on the negative [parts] of our history but shining a light on how [our culture] can actually be used as a strength.”
As part of the university’s commitment to systemic changes that support Indigenous community members, TMU is implementing an Indigenous Wellbeing and Cultural Practice Leave, where Indigenous staff from Canada can take up to five personal days to support healing and wellbeing, including cultivating cultural interests and practices however they choose.
Indigenous students at TMU can also access culturally supportive programs and services on campus, including peer support groups and Indigenous traditional counseling through Gdoo-maawnjidimi Mompii Indigenous Student Services (GMISS).
“Reaching out to Indigenous youth and people and just asking [for] their experiences… It’s an easy step to make a huge impact in reconciliation,” Catcheway reflected.
The Johnson Scholarship Foundation funds a matching grant for TMU for program support and scholarship assistance for Indigenous students.