In recognition of Orange Shirt Day on September 30, an annual event to commemorate the residential school experience, I’d like to acknowledge the struggle that Indigenous Peoples of Canada continue to face. Although the parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on June 1, 2008, continued acknowledgement by Canadians of the intergenerational trauma, compromised family structures, and the loss of Indigenous culture, language, and traditions is needed for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities to heal (Indigenous Foundations, 2009). The purpose of the Commission was to “document the history and lasting impacts of the Canadian Indian residential school system on Indigenous students and their families” by “providing residential school survivors an opportunity to share their experiences during public and private meetings held across the country” (Wikipedia, n. d.). The priority of the TRC was to let all Canadians know the truth about residential schools in the hopes of “reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on mutual understanding and respect” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, n. d.). With this in mind, Orange Shirt Day is an opportunity for Indigenous history and experience to be seen and heard. It is celebrated in schools to invite communities to “come together in a spirit of reconciliation and hope because every child matters” (Orange Shirt Day, n. d.).
Celebrating cultural histories presents an opportunity to build safe spaces that represent otherwise forgotten experiences. Representation is but one example of how we may become more inclusive of marginalized cultures. When teachers present a spectrum of stories to their students, they become stewards for those whose stories are being shared. Teaching dance for the purpose of imparting cultural history allows students and teachers to partake in the passing on of a tradition whose ritual reinforces identity and membership. Dance is a primary mode of communication and expression, its non-verbal language offering connection with our inner experience to our outer interactions.
When we move in unison, connected by rhythm and floor pattern, our shared experience bonds us to one another and pays tribute to those whose stories we are renacting. I am humbled by my point of privilege when I consider the generations of Indigenous people who were forbidden to practise their dance and music traditions due to colonization and oppression. The prohibition of Powwows demonstrates the European attempt to lay claim and gain power and control over a culture. Orange Shirt Day affords us time to reflect on the importance of including everyone in our perspective, of the contribution of all voices, including those who have been silenced in the past. We all have the right to express ourselves, and to be represented in affirmation and validation. May we be reminded, on September 30 and always, that we each have the right to seek and speak our truth, unapologetically. Please wear your orange shirt proudly, in solidarity with our Indigenous partners, who belong at the same table as we do.
Guest Writer: Erika MacNeil, is a dancer by training and a teacher by trade. Mother of two teens and owner of two mutts, Erika is also the librarian at Rogers PS in Newmarket, where she lives with her husband and family. She writes primarily flash fiction and poetry and has been published in a variety of media. She offers editing and content services for students, bloggers, and writers, and serves at Open Mic and Student Coordinator for the Writers Community of York Region. She has been a judge and critic for writing and public speaking contests and enjoys singing and painting when she is not in the studio or buried in a book.
Indigenous Foundation (2009). The Residential School System. Retrieved from https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_residential_school_system/
Orange Shirt Day (n. d.). Home page. Retrieved from https://www.orangeshirtday.org/
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (n. d.). FAQs. Retrieved from http://www.trc.ca/about-us/faqs.htmlWikipedia (n. d.). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Retrieved from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth_and_Reconciliation_Commission_of_Canada