September 30: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation  

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A small green seed is sprouting against an orange background.
Encouraging Indigenous engagement on campus is a small sprouting seed in the larger context of Truth and Reconciliation. REDQUASAR via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

Lori Campbell on encouraging Indigenous engagement on campus 

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is approaching, and the entire nation is preparing to remember and honour the victims and survivors of the residential schools and their families and communities. The University of Regina (UofR) is organizing events and activities to educate more people on why the day is observed and to encourage Indigenous engagement on campus.  

To outline the history of the day, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a federal holiday observed on September 30 each year. It was established in 2021 to address Call 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. The intention is to recognize and commemorate the legacy of the residential school system in Canada and to honour the survivors, their families, and Indigenous communities affected by it. 

The residential school system forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families and communities and placed them in government-sponsored and church-run schools. These schools were intended to destroy children’s cultural attachments and assimilate them into Euro-Western, Canadian culture. Abuse and neglect were also rife in many residential schools, leading to profound intergenerational trauma and loss within Indigenous communities.  

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation serves as a day of remembrance and reflection on the atrocities committed during a period that ended only recently; the last residential school closed in the late 1990s. It also provides an opportunity for citizens to educate themselves about the history and ongoing impacts of colonization in Canada, and to engage in reconciliation efforts with Indigenous peoples. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is observed on the same day as the earlier established Orange Shirt Day.  

Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day to promote the concept of “Every Child Matters.” The orange shirt symbolizes the stripping away of culture, community, and self-determination experienced by Indigenous peoples over generations. People across the country are encouraged to wear orange to honour the survivors of the residential school system.  

The Carillon met with Lori Campbell, Associate Vice-President of Indigenous Engagement at the University of Regina, to discuss the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and what their office is doing to promote the day and encourage Indigenous engagement. Campbell is a Two-Spirit member of Montreal Lake Cree First Nation in Treaty 6 territory. She is also an intergenerational survivor of the Indian Residential School system and a child from the Sixties Scoop generation.  

Campbell’s team has been working diligently to promote awareness and Indigenous engagement across the U of R campus. When asked about the most important advances made over the last year, she said, “Over the past year our office led the development of an Indigenous Engagement Strategic Plan and I think that’s the big thing of the last year. It stands out to me because we had done so much consultation and not only that, there was so much willingness from the students, staff, and faculty across the campuses and the community. It was just astounding that so many people were interested in having their voice heard on how we can do better, and that to me felt like a very good sign.”  

Talking about the challenges that students from Indigenous communities face at the university, Campbell said, “There is a history of exclusion from universities and we still have many students who are first generation university students. Different barriers come with that like navigating the university system when you don’t come from a family where parents have gone to the university.” Her team focuses on making the university experience more accessible and easier to navigate for these students.  

Her team’s job, however, has not been without its challenges. Funds are tight and that has affected their endeavours for promoting engagement significantly. “Resources are tight everywhere. Not just universities but everywhere right now. Some of the things that we need to do cost money. We need to have more Indigenous staff and faculty representation and that will benefit Indigenous students but also non-Indigenous students,” said Campbell.  

The core responsibilities of Campbell’s team are to provide leadership on strategic and policy development related to Indigenous initiatives, support campus-wide Indigenous activities, and coordinate the truth and reconciliation strategy. Campbell spoke to us about her team’s plans regarding the new semester: “I can tell you that on Tuesday [September 26] we are publicly launching our Indigenous Strategic Engagement Plan and there are 34 actions within and there are 14 areas. One is student success and places and spaces, so our campus and what it looks like and how its set up. Teaching and research are also in there. I try to focus on systemic things like policy, things that are not always as apparent in the forefront. Looking at things within the system that are disadvantaging Indigenous excellence to shine but also disadvantaging opportunity for non-Indigenous students, staff, and faculty to learn and engage with Indigenous people.”  

She also mentions that she is focusing on getting more and more international students to engage with the Indigenous community and culture. “One particular demographic I really think about is international students and newcomers who have no history here and have a lot of questions. I have heard before from that demographic about how when they come to Canada, they want the full experience. They want to know lots of things, […] one of it [those things] is about Indigenous people here in Canada. I also see that demographic often times come from a very cultural background and so they are really drawn to engage with the people from the First Nations and Métis students. I think what the students will see is a campus-wide commitment to implement various actions that are outlined within that plan and I think that will impact students,” she said.  

Speaking to Campbell about her team’s plan for encouraging Indigenous engagement on campus certainly creates excitement to get involved and learn more about the history and culture of Indigenous communities in Canada. After all, that is what truth and reconciliation is about: to actively learn, remember, commemorate, and communicate. Survivors must be shown respect and have attention devoted to them.  

If truly engaging with truth and reconciliation efforts, citizens promote the teaching that has guided the work of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation: that we are all in this together – we are all one, connected, and it is vital to work together to achieve reconciliation. 

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