September 30th, 2021, is an important day in Canadian history. It is the first time that Truth and Reconciliation Day is observed nation-wide. Though it is a holiday, it is not simply a day for mindless celebration. In fact, it is a solemn day. Today we honour the victims and survivors of residential schools, as well as their communities and families. If you are unaware of what this means, it is explained in appropriate detail ahead.
In a broad sense, this day honours the Indigenous population of Canada. Especially, we remember the millions that died during European settlement and their descendants. To do our part, we wrote some information about Indigenous life before colonialism. Additionally, we explain how European invasion harmed their society. Lastly, we explore why this day was only recently created, and what you can do to help.
Indigenous Society Before European Contact
No one is sure when people began to live on this land. However, surely humans lived here thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. One popular theory suggests that they crossed from Northeast Asia through a temporary land bridge around 10 000 years ago. As you can imagine, that gave civilizations a long time to develop. In fact, there were around 4 – 7 million Indigenous people in North America before European contact.
Indeed, by the time the Europeans arrived, they found a complex and interconnected society with hundreds of tribes and languages. The Indigenous people covered all North America, including the North, East, and West coasts. Additionally, many of the groups had their own traditions handed down for centuries. Further, there were massive trade networks that connected the entire continent. Like today, deep religious belief, cultural ties, and trade, created harmony and conflict between groups.
Truth - Tragedy and European Settlement
It is no secret that settler colonialism harmed the culture of all native groups in the New World. In fact, there are entire areas of study dedicated to the topic. Of course, Canada is no exception. But why did the Europeans come to America? To put it simply, they traveled in search of money, glory, and competition. After exploiting their own land, European nations sought new places to draw profit from.
This was a time of fierce competition and every inch forward counted. Once the Europeans arrived in Canada, life for native groups changed completely. At first, trade was established. Guns were a great advantage for natives in their own warfare. Thus, they were happy to trade valuable goods like beaver fur. Sadly, the Europeans eventually took advantage of the native people’s kindness.
In the end, over 50 million Indigenous people died during the 16th century alone. In fact, European germs and viruses killed about 90% of the native population. Then, many survivors were forced to assimilate to European culture. In truth, this meant abandoning their traditional clothing, language, customs, and religion. Unfortunately, some of the worst acts occurred at residential schools for native children. This is a recent topic of discussion in Canada, which led to the creation of this holiday. It is estimated that between 4 – 6 thousand children died in these schools.
Reconciliation - Bridging the Gap
Of course, Canada today is not the same European society that existed in the 16th century. In fact, today’s Canada is an accepting, multicultural place where equal opportunity abounds. However, the past cannot be ignored. Therefore, the Canadian government is putting an emphasis on the past. Remembering, recognizing, and mending the mistakes of the past.
Sadly, most of the damage is already done. Indigenous society is hardly a shadow of its former self. That is why today is a special, dedicated to remembering the mistakes and unfairness of the past. However, it is also a day to look towards the future, and to make amends for the past.
How to Help on Truth and Reconciliation Day
We invite you to take time today to think about Canada’s relationship with its native inhabitants. If you live outside of Canada, maybe Indigenous groups were unfairly treated in your country as well. Today is a good day to learn about their struggle and history. Additionally, you can wear orange, as it is also Orange Shirt Day. This shows support for the native inhabitants of the land. Lastly, you can visit this page in the Canadian Government’s Website to learn more about this day.