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Canada honors victims of historic injustice

October 1, 2021

Canadians have reflected on injustices perpetrated against Indigenous peoples in the country's first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

People hold up flags during the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Ottawa
The first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation has been held in Canada Image: Sean Kilpatrick/AP/picture alliance

The very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was held in Canada on Thursday.

The day honors the Indigenous children who died during their forced attendance of so-called residential schools.

Survivors and those affected by their legacy are also remembered.

It comes after the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves on the grounds of two former institutions earlier this year. It is believed many more burial sites have yet to be discovered.

A day of grief and remembrance

While various ceremonies were held across the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an address in front of Parliament and said: "On this first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we reflect on the lasting impacts of residential schools." And then he added: "We remember the children who never made it home.”

Trudeau thanked survivors for sharing their stories and tweeted: "We'll continue to walk this path of reconciliation with you — and with Indigenous peoples across the country."

Algonquin elder Claudette Commanda told those gathered at the ceremony: "It is a day to reflect. It is a day to honor. It is a day to grieve. It is a day to mourn. It is a day to shed tears."

A ceremony involving the Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation takes place in Canada
Thousands of Indigenous children are believed to have died in Canada's residential schooling system since the 1830sImage: Carlso Osorio/REUTERS

What were residential schools?

The residential schooling system was a collection of institutions which can be traced as far back as the 1830s and continued in operation right up until 1996.

Around 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to attend the network of boarding schools.

The purpose of the schools was to remove the children from the influence of their home cultures and traditions in order to assimilate them into mainstream society.

Children were at the mercy of a cruel system, with many becoming victims of abuse. Thousands of children are believed to have died as a result of disease, malnutrition and neglect.

The Catholic Church has apologized for the role it played in running the schools along with government.

Indigenous peoples: Canada "extremely regressive"

kb/jsi (AFP, Reuters)