September 30 is a federal holiday called National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The BC Museums Association urges our members, museums, and Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast to use this day as an opportunity to learn, reflect, make connections, and take action in redressing more than 150 years of injustice.
This post will discuss the history of September 30/Orange Shirt Day/National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, share resources to help you learn, reflect, and take action, and share how the BCMA plans to recognize the date.
CW: Residential Schools
What is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?
On Jul 20, 2021, the Government of Canada declared September 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a federal statutory holiday in order to allow public servants the opportunity “to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools.” The declaration of this holiday is in response to Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action No. 80, calling for the creation of a statutory holiday “to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process”.
In February 2023, the Province of British Columbia passed legislation making September 30 a statutory holiday taking effect in 2023. This means that all workers in B.C. will be covered by the province’s Employment Standards Act and will be entitled to a paid day off every Sept. 30. With this new legislation, museums, galleries, and cultural organizations will need to decide how they want to recognize this day. By closing you could provide staff and volunteers the opportunity to use September 30 as a day of reflection and learning. However, many community members turn to museums as places to learn about reconciliation, so it might be important to stay open and pay staff overtime to work on the holiday.
Is Orange Shirt Day the Same as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?
Since 2013, the Orange Shirt Society, a not-for-profit organization located in Williams Lake BC, has used Orange Shirt Day (September 30) as a day to recognize the ongoing harm that the residential school system has inflicted upon Indigenous communities. The date was chosen because it represents the time of the year that children were taken from their homes and moved into residential schools. The orange shirt itself comes from a story told by Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, remembering her first day at a residential school, as a six-year-old, when a brand-new orange shirt given to her by her grandmother was taken from her by school administrators.
If you are able to make a donation to the Orange Shirt Society, donations help Phyllis Webstad and the Orange Shirt Society raise awareness across Canada about the Indian Residential Schools and their continuing impacts on individuals, families and communities, and to promote the concept of “Every Child Matters.” Donations can be made online.
If you would like to purchase an orange shirt to wear on September 30, the Orange Shirt Society keeps a list of official suppliers on their website.
Vancouver Magazine also made a list of shirts made by Indigenous designers.
We encourage you to make contributions that have the most direct impact for local Indigenous artists and communities, and avoid purchases from major retailers where funds may not have the impact needed. For example, The Reach Gallery will be selling shirts made by a local Indigenous artist and the funds will be used to support the Indigenous communities of the Fraser Valley. Some communities are seeking crowdfunding, and we encourage members to research their local First Nations to find crowdsourcing campaigns. These crowdsourced funds are meant to match or exceed the funding the federal and provincial government is providing through their own process, meeting community needs quickly and addressing the expense of Ground Penetrating Radar work. We encourage you to look at local options and support those that resonate with you.
Should My Museum Close on September 30?
Ultimately, we encourage members to take whatever actions they feel will be the most impactful for their staff, volunteers, and community on September 30. For some organizations, closing and encouraging volunteers and staff to participate in community events or to spend time focusing on self-education is the best course of action.
But if your site is somewhere community members turn to learn about the history of colonization and the attempted genocide of Indigenous cultures and peoples, then staying open and facilitating community dialogue is the best course of action.
For some organizations, it might make sense to close to the public and bring your board, staff, and volunteers together on-site for a day of learning (Nahanee Creative offers a series of mini-online courses that you might want to consider: https://www.nahaneecreative.com/).
The BCMA strongly encourages our members to take time to reflect on what makes the most sense for you – have conversations with your team, ask other partner organizations what they are planning, and reflect on what could be the most meaningful course of action. However, we also caution non-Indigenous organizations asking Indigenous communities, partners, and staff to tell you what to do. Even well-meaning outreach can add emotional labour to Indigenous partners and it is important that non-Indigenous and settler Canadians take agency in redressing the wrongs of colonization.
There is no single right answer, so look within and reflect on what makes the most sense for your specific organization.
Lou-ann Neel recently shared suggestions for how non-Indigenous Canadians can demonstrate accountability and action on September 30. With her permission we have shared those recommendations here and urge non-Indigenous arts, culture, and heritage professionals to reflect on the following points.
What Are Some Appropriate Resources and Events to Engage With?
f you are looking for resources and learning opportunities for yourself or to share with your staff, volunteers, or community, we recommend the following. If you have an event you’d like to share and add to this list, please email email@example.com.
Please note: If you know of an event in your community that you would like to be featured on this list, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
How is the BCMA Marking September 30?
In past years, the BCMA team used September 30th as an opportunity to focus on professional/personal development and growth that supports our understanding of truth and reconciliation. Team members would be given time off to focus on personal learning/reflection or to participate in community events. At a later date, the team would gather virtually and share their experiences and learnings.
This year our team will be in Haida Gwaii on September 30, having just finished our 2023 gathering in partnership with the Haida Gwaii Museum and Haida Heritage Centre. As our team travels back to our respective homes, we will reflect on the conversations and calls to action shared at the gathering and imagine how to incorporate lessons into our work