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How Whistler is commemorating Canada’s first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Full day of programming at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre; Whistler Public Library hosting book giveaway on Thursday, Sept. 30
Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre great hall
The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre's great hall in Whistler, B.C.

Canada will mark its first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation this Thursday, Sept. 30. 

What began as Orange Shirt Day in 2013—an occasion on which Canadians are encouraged to wear orange in acknowledgement of the traumatic legacy of residential schools—is now a federal statutory day, after the Canadian government passed legislation declaring it such in June.

That means Sept. 30 will from now on be a paid holiday for federal government employees, or those working in federally-regulated industries like banks or post offices.

The bill was fast-tracked through both houses of Parliament shortly after the remains of about 215 children were discovered in May by the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

In the wake of that first devastating discovery, officials have used ground-penetrating radar technology to locate upwards of 1,300 more unmarked graves this year on the grounds of former residential schools across Canada. It remains unknown how many of the approximately 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children who attended residential schools between 1831 and 1996 died at the institutions, but it's clear an even higher number were sexually, physically and emotionally abused.

The decision to declare a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation fulfills No. 80 of 94 calls to action in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which recommended the federal government work alongside Indigenous people to establish a statutory day 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.”

The date was chosen to mark the time of year when Indigenous children were typically taken from their homes and brought to residential schools.

Some provinces and municipalities have also chosen to mark the occasion. British Columbia has deemed Sept. 30 a day of commemoration rather than a provincial statutory holiday, though most schools, post-secondary institutions, Crown corporations and B.C. government offices will be closed.

What's happening in Whistler, on the unceded territory of the Skwxwú7mesh and Lilwat7úl First Nations

"I don't feel that it's necessarily a day to celebrate, but it's a day to honour those who have been affected, and to just take the time to listen and learn,” said Georgina Dan, cultural administration coordinator at the Skwxwú7mesh Lilwat7úl Cultural Centre (SLCC) and a member of the Lil’wat Nation.

“I think it's quite beautiful, to be honest … There are a lot of people who have been honouring this day already, but there's also a lot of people who don't know about it, and I think making it a statutory holiday for some people will highlight it a bit more.”

A full day of programming will be held at the SLCC on Thursday, Sept. 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with free admission courtesy of the Fairmont Chateau Whistler (though donations are welcomed.)

It begins with a morning address from Squamish Nation’s Chepximiya Siyam’ Chief Janice George (her husband Skwetsimeltxw Willard “Buddy” Joseph will also be onsite to offer support, as will Gélpcal Cultural Chief Ashley Joseph and Saw̓t Martina Pierre from Lil’wat Nation), followed by a spoken word performance from artist and SLCC ambassador, The Prophet.

A moment of silence will be held at noon, followed by a rendition of “Woman’s Warrior Song” by the Spo7ez Storytellers and Performance Team, while residential school survivors from Lil’wat Nation will be on hand to share their stories and host a smudge ceremony. Throughout the day, visitors can participate in a tour, make crafts, listen to songs of reflection, and view the ‘We were children’ pop-up exhibit curated by Mixalhítsa7 Alison Pascal and installed in honour of National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. A totem designed by Lil’wat Nation carver Q̓awām Redmond Andrews and created alongside Squamish Nation apprentice Courtney Williams will also be unveiled, while both Andrews and Williams will speak about their summer project. Sheila Bikadi will lead an afternoon forest walk with tea.

Admission will also be free throughout the weekend, from Oct. 1 to 3, courtesy of CIBC.

For those looking for a way to commemorate the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the centre can serve as “a stepping stone to finding answers to questions, or to maybe more questions,” Dan added.

Those unable to make it to the SLCC in person can access a host of resources available on the centre's website.

With the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) among the numerous communities formally recognizing Sept. 30 as National Truth and Reconciliation Day, Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton encouraged all Whistlerites to use the day to listen and learn.

Though the Whistler Public Library will remain closed on Sept. 30—as will Whistler’s municipal hall—the community is invited to stop by the library between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to receive a free book on the topic of truth and reconciliation. Included in the more than 100 fiction and non-fiction titles (for all ages) being given away by staff are Phyllis's Orange Shirt, A National Crime, Indian Horse, and 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, to name just a few.

Flags will be flown at half-mast and the Fitzsimmons Bridge will be lit up in orange, while the municipality, in partnership with the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, will distribute Truth and Reconciliation toolkits to local businesses. The Meadow Park Sports Centre will remain open on Thursday, though no group fitness classes will be held.

Meanwhile, most full-time municipal staff will have participated in cultural awareness and sensitivity training by Oct. 1, according to the RMOW.

The topic of reconciliation and addressing the enduring impacts of colonialism “is something that’s been important for us to talk about, to find ways to work through personally and with our families,” Crompton says, noting, “One of the most effective things we’ve done as a family is just to talk about it at the dinner table."

Pick up a copy of the Pique on Thursday for more on the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.