On September 30, churches across the Diocese of Islands and Inlets honoured the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, or Orange Shirt Day, in a range of ways, including organising and participating in local events and displaying signs and orange T-shirts outside their buildings.
The 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also featured prominently in the day’s events. Trinity, Port Alberni, rang its bells 94 times, while in Nanaimo, parishioners gathered outside St. Paul to read the 94 calls to action.
Clara Plamondon, incumbent at St. Paul, noted that the weather seemed to be attuned to the proceedings. “As we started to read, the skies opened and it began to rain. We continued reading while people walking by paused and listened. As the last and 94th call to action was read, the rain stopped. The sun came out and we paused for a moment of silence just as the clock turned to 2:15 p.m., reminding us of the 215 children whose remains were found at the former residential school in Kamloops earlier in the year.”
In Victoria, St. Mary, Oak Bay, posted the 94 calls to action on the church’s doors. St. Mary is a founding member of ReconciliACTION Oak Bay, along with Oak Bay United Church and the Community Association of Oak Bay. ReconciliACTION Oak Bay aims to build a relationship with the Songhees and Esquimalt peoples and take action to build a just future.
As part of this collaboration, St. Mary invited community members to gather in front of the Sno’uyutth Welcome Pole to honour residential school survivors and their families. The Sno’uyutth Welcome Pole stands in front of Oak Bay High School and was raised in 2015 as an act of respect towards the First Nations who have been stewards of the land for thousands of years.
More than 500 people attended the event and the attendees observed 215 seconds of silence. Craig Heibert, incumbent at St. Mary, commented that although the gathered crowd initially seemed uncomfortable with such a long silence, “once their discomfort had settled, all they could hear was the rustling and murmuring of the many children who were with us — a profound moment, given the many children who never made it home.”
ReconciliACTION Oak Bay also hosted a screening of the documentary Picking up the Pieces: The Making of the Witness Blanket, which charts the creation of the Witness Blanket, made by Indigenous artist Carey Newman as a monument to residential school survivors and their families. The Witness Blanket is made from everyday items collected from residential schools across Canada and each item tells an important story.
Christ Church Cathedral decided not to put on any programming for the week of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and instead encouraged staff and the cathedral community to attend events in the city and online, including the Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters ceremony held in Centennial Square in Victoria. Ansley Tucker, dean of the cathedral, reflected that the event had an almost “celebratory atmosphere.”
“I heard one person wonder aloud if perhaps the gathering ought to have felt more sombre or penitential. But I don’t think so. It is good to celebrate hope; it is good to build on possibilities.”
Ansley was also struck by how young and diverse the crowd at the event was. “It is heartening to know that a generation not yet born when the last residential school closed has turned its attention to undoing the wrongs of our past.”
Inside the cathedral, there were displays of orange flowers and the altar was bathed in orange light, creating a quiet space for reflection. “Sometimes, images are more effective than words in moving people to action,” commented Ansley.
Many churches also held dedicated worship services in the days and weeks leading up to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. On Sunday, September 26, St. John the Baptist, Duncan, held an Every Child Matters worship service. As part of the service, Charlie Coleman, district principle of Indigenous education in the Cowichan Valley school district (SD79), spoke about the priorities for Indigenous education within SD79.
These priorities include ensuring all Xe’ xe’ smun’eem (sacred children) succeed by creating a school system that feels safe, welcoming and culturally relevant for all; and ensuring that the Hwunitum (the non-Indigenous population) in the school system know the truth about what has been done to Indigenous people, so that they know why they need to work towards reconciliation. Kathy Mills, a member of the parish council, commented that “Mr. Coleman spoke simply and with great love and kindness. We were encouraged and blessed by his presence and words shared.”
Trinity, Port Alberni, held a worship service focused on truth and reconciliation on October 3. Irene Robinson, a Tseshaht person and member of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council, spoke at the service about the mistreatment of her relatives who attended the Alberni Indian Residential School. Brenda Nestegaard-Paul, incumbent at Trinity, said Irene’ story brought many to tears.
“The abuse was hard to listen to. The grace filled moment for me was when Irene said, ‘Now don’t be feeling guilty. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do these things.’ The power of those words took my breath away. The silence in the air was electric. And then Irene said, ‘But here’s my challenge: tell others what you have heard. Find your voice. Now you know what happened. You can help us by telling others. Use your voice.’”
Music and singing, where possible, also featured in the worship services and events, whether hymns, such as “For the Healing of the Nations,” or the Secwepemc Honour Song. Andrew Twiddy, incumbent at St. Anne and St. Edmunds, Parksville, also shared with the Post a hymn verse that he wrote on the theme of reconciliation:
settler peoples with First Nations,
listening first, to make amends.
as Creator makes us neighbours,
with new honour, we find friends.
prism spectrum of all nations,
sharing light beams from the Sun,
now confess Great Spirit’s rainbow,
“Love refracted: many, one.”
Many churches will be displaying their messages of support and orange T-shirts long after September 30, and indeed, the work of truth and reconciliation continues.