Healthy Communities

Marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

25 September 2023 - by YMCA of Greater Toronto

Written by Jenna Robar, Manager of Indigenous Relationships

The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is available to survivors and their families at any time. Please call 1-800-721-0066 or 1-866-925-4419 to access the 24-7 crisis line. You can find additional support via the First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310. First Nations, Inuit, and Metis youth can text 686868 to access Indigenous volunteer crisis responders (via Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone), and adults can access this same service by texting 741741.  

The origins of Orange Shirt Day

In 2013, Phyllis Webstad and others founded Orange Shirt Day (September 30) in recognition of generational harm to Indigenous children and their families caused by the Indian Residential School system. Phyllis wore a new orange shirt on her first day at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, only to have it taken from her when the staff stripped her upon arrival. This colour reminds her of that day and has become a symbol of the residential school system. Wearing an orange shirt is a way to remember and honour the children who went to these institutions: Those who returned and those who did not.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) concluded that residential schools were “a systematic, government-sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples.” The TRC characterized this intent as cultural genocide.

From the 1831 opening of the Mohawk Indian Residential School in Brantford, Ontario, until today, Indigenous child apprehension and assimilations continue. Post-residential institution apprehension systems include the Sixties Scoop, incarceration, the Adopt Indian and Métis (AIM) program, and the child welfare system.

In 2021, the federal government announced that September 30 would also be a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. This day was designated to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. We are reminded that authentic commemorations and genuine actions are central to reconciliation.

Marking September 30 in a meaningful way

As we reflect on the two years since the remains of 215 children were recovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation territory, we recognize that many nations continue to search for their young ones who did not return home.  While the recoveries at Kamloops may have been shocking for some, it corresponds with the experiences and stories that Survivors of this system have been telling us for many years. The TRC has recorded many of these stories during their inquiry and interview processes.

As these recoveries continue, the YMCA of Greater Toronto remains committed to taking an anti-colonial approach to reconciliation as outlined in our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging strategy. We continue to follow the guidance of our Indigenous colleagues and will mark this day in 2023 by amplifying Indigenous voices and events. We’ve included some below.

Please join us as we continue to listen, learn, reflect, and act individually and as a charity to deepen our understanding of our shared histories, our obligations as treaty people, and how non-Indigenous folks can take direct actions on a path toward reconciliation.


Please note that some of these resources contain disturbing content. If needed, the Indian Residential School Survivors Society is available to survivors and their families at any time. Please call 1-800-721-0066 or 1-866-925-4419 to access the 24-7 crisis line. Additional support can be found via the First Nations and Inuit  Hope for Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310. First Nations, Inuit, and Metis youth can text 686868 for access to Indigenous volunteer crisis responders (via Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone), and adults can access this same service by texting 741741.  


Once We Were Many. A short, animated poem by Dennis Saddleman.


United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

Indigenous Watchdog’s Progress Report on the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action

Witness Blanket Project


Stolen by investigative journalist Connie Walker.


Residential Schools Reckoning: Lessons from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. As Indigenous communities decide if and how they will recover the remains of the children who were lost at residential schools across Canada, this CBC video looks to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota for advice on what that process could look like. (8-minute run time)

Lillian Elias: A Residential School Survivor's Story. In this Historica Canada video, Elias shares how she helped many Inuvialuit grow up with a better understanding of their language, who they are, and where they come from. (2-minute run time)

Honour Song by Jeremy Dutcher. Dutcher is a classically trained Indigenous tenor, composer, musicologist, performer, and activist. (5-minute run time)

The Honourable Murray Sinclair’s statement on discovery at Kamloops residential schools  Sinclair was the chairman of the TRC. He is also a former member of the Senate of Canada and a retired lawyer and judge. (10-minute run time)


We Were Children. Warning: This film contains disturbing content and is recommended for audiences ages 16 and older. Parental discretion or watching this film within a group setting is strongly advised. As young children, Lyna and Glen were taken from their homes and placed in church-run boarding schools, where they suffered years of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse — the effects of which persist in their adult lives. We Were Children gives voice to a national tragedy and demonstrates the incredible resilience of the human spirit. (83-minute run time) 

Hi-Ho Mistahey! 14-year-old Shannen Koostachin launched a campaign in 2008 to build a suitable school for the children of the Cree community of Attawapiskat. Two years later, she was killed in a car accident. Shannen’s campaign became a national movement, bringing people from all walks of life together to make Shannen’s Dream — the dream of fairness in education for First Nations children in safe and welcoming schools — a reality. (99-minute run time) 


Missing Children of Indian Residential Schools is a story map that uses data collected from the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), the TRC, and the geographic information system (GIS) to provide a visual representation of the 139 Indian Residential School locations across Canada and document the search for missing children from those schools.

Every Child Matters (English-French) reading list from

Programs and Initiatives from the Toronto Public Library.


2023 DatesEventDescriptionLink
Several dates throughout SeptemberIndigenous Celebrations. Giganawendamin Dibaajimowinan. We keep the stories.

Virtual and in person
Toronto Public Library hosts this festival of Indigenous cultures and heritage, where we celebrate First Nations, Métis, and Inuit heritage by presenting Indigenous storytelling and literature and discussions on history and current issues.Event listing
September 18

5:30 pm to 6:45 pm
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation/ Orange Shirt Day 2023

This virtual event will be recorded

The Law Society of Ontario invites you to its annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day program. This program is part of a yearly series of Indigenous events to raise cultural awareness and educate members of the legal professions and the public on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and communities.Learn more

Register here

September 20

12 pm to 1:30 pm
Furthering Truth and Reconciliation

This virtual event will be recorded

Libraries across the country have been struggling to find ways to provide meaningful mechanisms to support the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action. Please join Dr. Sabrina Redwing Saunders as she discusses the importance of reconciliation in our public libraries and how we can make real steps toward reconciliation.

This event is presented on behalf of the Indigenous Libraries Partnership Working Group.
Event tickets


September 25

12:30 pm to 2:30 pm

Roads to Reconciliation

In person
McMaster University in Hamilton will be honouring Dr. Tom Dignan, the first Indigenous graduate of McMaster University's medical school and his inclusion into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame.Event tickets
September 25

2 pm
Learn with Your Head, Lead from the Heart & Speak Your Truth: Teaching Young Children about Residential Schools

Join the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to hear from educators, early childhood caregivers, parents, youth, and Artist Ambassador Isaac Murdoch as they share how they tackle the hard truths in teaching young learners about residential schools.

This session will help you take on these difficult but important conversations with your students or other children in your lives in an age-appropriate way.
Register here
September 25–29Truth and Reconciliation Week 2023 Public Lunch and Learns

The NCTR will offer a series of FREE 50-minute virtual lunch and learn sessions throughout Truth and Reconciliation Week 2023 to facilitate learning for Canadians on topics related to Truth and Reconciliation.

These sessions will feature a range of speakers and will allow  audience members to ask questions and engage in further conversations.

Event tickets
September 27

1 pm to 2:30 pm
Art as Medicine: Honouring the Sacred Spirit of our Stories

In person
The panel features guest speakers Elwood Jimmy, Leslie McCue, and Dr. Lisa Richardson, who explore how Indigenous knowledge informs an approach to health as a broader set of relations, wherein artistic expression furthers community connection, nurtures collective identity, and strengthens kinship ties to push back against forces of fracture and disruption imposed by the Residential School system.Event tickets
September 27

6:30 PM
Chief Cadmus Delorme on Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action

In person
Join this lecture by Chief Cadmus Delorme, former Chief of the Cowessess First Nation, as he speaks on the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action.Event tickets
September 28

12 pm to 1 pm
Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Series

The George Brown College (GBC) Indigenous Initiatives team is excited to welcome Senator Mary Jane McCallum to share her story and vision for the future.Event tickets
September 29

1 pm to 3 pm
Sacred Fire Ceremony

In person
The George Brown College Indigenous Initiatives team will hold a Sacred Fire Ceremony to commemorate Orange Shirt Day, honouring the children who never returned home from residential schools and survivors, their families, and their communities.Event tickets
September 30

12 pm to 4 pm
Day for Truth and Reconciliation at the Benares Historic House

In person
On a guided tour of the grounds and house, museum staff will share information about the Indigenous history of Mississauga and share letters from families connected to the house, which provide a glimpse of how settlers and the Mississaugas interacted. Staff will also share what the City of Mississauga is doing today to further the process of Reconciliation.

Attendees will learn about the Moccasin Identifier Project and have an opportunity to stencil their own Moccasin image.
Event tickets
September 30National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Virtual and in person
This live national broadcast will commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Join in person or watch the broadcast online to memorialize the children lost to the residential school system and honour Survivors and their families.

Learning and commemorating the truth of our history from First Nations, Inuit, and Métis knowledge keepers is an important part of the path to reconciliation.


Learn more
October 17–29imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

Virtual and in person
As the largest presenter of Indigenous screen content, imagineNATIVE invites you to participate in artistic and industry programs over the festival, showcasing film, video, digital and interactive, and audio works created by Indigenous artists including directors, producers, writers, and designers — at all levels of experience.Film festival information










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