Since its declaration in 2021, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is observed annually on September 30 to remember and honour Indigenous lives lost to the residential school system, celebrate the survivors, and critically assess the lasting effects residential schools have on Indigenous individuals, families, and communities today. Federally run residential schools operated throughout Canada from 1867 to 1996. This system was only one of the many measures the Canadian government and officials enacted for the purposes of eradicating Indigenous culture and reaching assimilation. Preparing in advance for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will help your organization and its employees play their part in rebuilding relationships with Indigenous people in Canada.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a federal statutory holiday. It is also a legislated holiday in British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Prince Edward Island. Other jurisdictions vary on how they recognize and observe the day. Even if the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is not a legislated holiday in your jurisdiction, every workplace can choose to observe the day in a meaningful way.
Table of contents
- What is Orange Shirt Day in Canada?
- Creating a brighter future: Observing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
- 1. Challenge unconscious biases
- 2. Reduce barriers in hiring
- 3. Support higher education
- 4. Establish mentorship and apprenticeship programs
- 5. Provide mental health supports
- 6. Support Indigenous organizations and communities
- 7. Embrace cultural diversity
- 8. Purchase your own orange shirt
- 9. Learn from Indigenous voices
- 10. Reflect through local events
- 11. Develop a land acknowledgement
- 12. Honour Indigenous observances throughout the year
- 13. Support the survivors
What is Orange Shirt Day in Canada?
Orange Shirt Day is also held on September 30 but is its own distinct observance. Canadians wear orange shirts to raise awareness of the impact of the residential schools. This commemorative day also promotes the concept that “Every Child Matters,” based on the experience of Phyllis Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who in 1973 was stripped of her new orange shirt when arriving at St. Joseph Mission Residential School on her first day of school as a six-year-old girl. The orange shirt represents how children who attended residential schools were stripped of their culture, freedom, and sense of self-worth.
September 30 was chosen because it was the time of year children were taken from their homes and brought to residential schools. Now, September 30 marks an opportunity for local governments, school boards, and communities to assess their policies for the upcoming year in the spirit of reconciliation.
Creating a brighter future: Observing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
Real change goes beyond collectively considering our shared history one day of the year. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released a final report, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, which also outlined the 94 Calls to Action. As a continued effort to redress the damage done through the government-established residential schools, the government of Canada implemented 10 principles that govern the relationship between the government and Indigenous peoples, including improving socioeconomic outcomes, supporting self-determination, and building relationships. Learn more about these principles and other reconciliation initiatives on the Indigenous Reconciliation app.
Similarly, employers can use these principles to inform how to build better relationships with Indigenous people in their workforce and beyond. With strong policies and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) strategies, you can make positive changes to empower Indigenous workers with skill-building and career growth. Below are some examples of how you can prepare for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
1. Challenge unconscious biases
Biased beliefs can lead to racism, discrimination, and stereotyping if left unchecked. Unfounded beliefs about Indigenous cultures and peoples continue to be passed down since Canada’s earliest European settlers. These discriminatory attitudes lay the foundation for the barriers that hold Indigenous persons from getting and staying hired. These misconceptions also create barriers for career growth, receiving proper medical care, and much more.
Beliefs like these are largely unknown to us because they operate in our unconscious mind, but Unconscious Bias Training can help workers understand the effects their biases have on others. Training also gives employees strategies to challenge their beliefs in order to make more informed and equitable decisions.
2. Reduce barriers in hiring
Indigenous people continue to face higher rates of unemployment compared to non-Indigenous people. There are several barriers within the hiring process that may prevent some Indigenous people from acquiring employment, including:
- Education requirements;
- Language requirements;
- Literacy and numeracy skills;
- The requirement of a driver’s licence or reliable mode of transportation; and
- Lack of safe and affordable childcare (a challenge for most Canadians, but even more so for Indigenous caretakers).
Always aim to be an equal opportunity employer. To reduce these barriers, use anonymous recruitment strategies to avoid making hiring decisions rooted in bias. You can also focus on hiring for potential and passion over credentials. Investing in high-potential workers pays off. Improving confidence through DEIB strategies and on-the-job training can lead to a more loyal, committed, and engaged workforce.
3. Support higher education
A growing number of Indigenous people are excelling in education and receiving higher-level degrees. Research consistently shows that higher education is linked to increased rates of employment and job earnings. There are still, however, disparities between the education received by Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Barriers that keep some Indigenous people from receiving the postsecondary education they want and need to move forward in their careers include:
- Relocation expenses;
- Lack of funding and support;
- Intergenerational trauma and lack of self-confidence; and
- Lack of culturally appropriate curricula.
Employers can support Indigenous workers’ education pursuits with an employee education plan. These programs should always be accompanied by supporting policies that outline the guidelines for requesting an educational initiative (such as a course, certificate, or licence), tuition reimbursement, and work schedule adjustments.
4. Establish mentorship and apprenticeship programs
Workers can also benefit from on-the-job learning. Apprenticeship and mentorship programs don’t require formal education that Indigenous workers may or may not have. They also allow workers to diversify their skills in order to grow in their careers.
5. Provide mental health supports
Because of Canadian attempts at assimilation, Indigenous people are more likely to experience substance-use disorders, intergenerational trauma, poor living conditions, internalized self-esteem issues, and other mental and physical health conditions. Toxic and discriminatory work environments also pose occupational health and safety hazards (such as psychological stress). As an employer, you must mitigate or eliminate hazards where possible.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation may also stir up past traumas and emotional wounds. Communicate government resources in advance of the day and inform workers that you are there to support them if they need help.
- 1-866-925-4419: For former residential school students.
- 1-855-242-3310: The Hope for Wellness Help Line for Indigenous peoples across Canada. They may also use the online chat at hopeforwellness.ca.
If you have a free employee and family assistance program (EFAP), ensure you distribute information on how employees and their families can access the supports provided in the program.
6. Support Indigenous organizations and communities
Indigenous economies have long been negatively affected by the arrival of European settlers. Until 1951, under the Indian Act, Indigenous people were not considered Indigenous if they obtained a postsecondary degree, which restricted their career mobility. This act also outlined a permit system that set harsh limits on what Indigenous people could sell, where, and to whom, preventing Indigenous families from creating and growing intergenerational wealth. The permit system was not repealed until 2014.
As of the fourth quarter of 2021, there were 17,417 private businesses with majority ownership by Indigenous people in Canada. In an effort to redress the multigenerational consequences of these laws, organizations can partner with and support Indigenous businesses. Spotlight Indigenous businesses your organization has worked with, the contributions they have made to the Canadian economy, and the work they do to inspire and help others.
7. Embrace cultural diversity
In addition to the permit system, the pass system prevented Indigenous people from travelling freely. This meant they could not always travel to participate in cultural and spiritual activities. The Indian Act also outlawed traditional Indigenous ceremonies like the potlatch and sun dance.
Now, employers should encourage and enable Indigenous workers to celebrate their traditional ceremonies with a Cultural and Traditional Days Policy. This policy permits employees to take a certain number of days off (paid or unpaid) annually to attend cultural and traditional activities to honour their beliefs, traditions, or cultural identity.
8. Purchase your own orange shirt
You can purchase official Orange Shirt Day merchandise for yourself and workers from the Orange Shirt Society to support their efforts and mission. Encourage employees to purchase their own or come to work wearing orange on or around September 30. Be sure you communicate the meaning behind the initiative so that employees observe the day with right intentions. If you can, you may also light your workplace buildings orange to show your support.
9. Learn from Indigenous voices
Teach and inspire your workforce through an in-person or virtual speaking engagement. Survivors of the residential school system can speak to their lived experiences and inspire workers to support Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in meaningful ways. Other Indigenous speakers can promote ways your organization can support reconciliation and the rights of Indigenous peoples.
10. Reflect through local events
Even if your jurisdiction does not recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday, you may choose to give employees a paid day off to reflect on the occasion anyway. Look up your local municipality’s plans to commemorate the day, and compile a list of ceremonies and activities your employees can participate in.
11. Develop a land acknowledgement
If you don’t already, now is a great opportunity to update your webpages and other resources to include an appropriate land acknowledgement. This means recognizing the Indigenous people who both now and historically resided where your operations take place. Understand that both your organization and its employees benefit from land that originally belonged to others.
12. Honour Indigenous observances throughout the year
As an inclusive employer, celebrating DEIB beyond commemorative observances is important to foster company values and true belonging. While the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a great opportunity for Canadians to reflect on our history, it’s important to recognize other Indigenous observances, such as:
- February 14: Women’s Memorial March
- May 5: Red Dress Day
- June 21: Summer Solstice
- October 4: Sisters in Spirit Vigil
13. Support the survivors
Above everything, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is meant to remember and honour those who suffered in the residential school system in Canada. Make a monetary contribution on behalf of your organization to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, who “provide culturally safe programs and services to support healing journeys for First Nations people who experienced the Indian Residential School system and other intergenerational traumas.”
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is not a legislated holiday in every Canadian jurisdiction. Still, there are many ways organizations throughout the country can observe the day and support Indigenous rights. Establishing a sound DEIB strategy that respects and embraces the unique values each individual worker offers requires thorough planning and constant maintenance. Our team of HR professionals can support you with policy creation, equity planning, and organizational compliance while staying within your budget. Every person within your workforce is valued. Let us support you in helping them feel that way, book your free demo now.