National Day of Truth and Reconciliation: How can settlers meaningfully be an effective ally to Indigenous people?

“My hope with this holiday is that it’s not seen as a day off but rather a day for Indigenous peoples to take the time needed to nurture themselves and for non-Indigenous peoples to do the work.”
-Tracie Léost

Sources of Support for Indigenous Peoples
Indian Residential School Survivors Society: 1-800-721-0066
Tsow-Tun-Le Lum: 1-866-925-4419
KUU-US Crisis Line Society : 1-800-588-8717
National Indian Residential School: 1-866-925-4419
Mental Health Resources for Indigenous Peoples:

Today, September 30 2021, is the first federally recognized National Day of Truth and Reconciliation which has its roots in Orange Shirt Day; a day to honour the stolen children and survivors of Indian Residential Schools and the intergenerational impacts of genocide. This day also directly responds to Action 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. To say federal recognition of this day is long overdue is an understatement. For many settlers today is the first time they will recognize Orange Shirt Day, but today is not new for Indigenous Peoples nor is their trauma a distant memory. The last Indian Residential School closed in 1996, only 25 years ago.

The federal government declared this day a statutory holiday in the midst of uncovering mass burial sites at former Residential Schools, but statutory holidays fall under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. The only provinces and territories that have declared it a provincial holiday are Manitoba, Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Northwest Territories (though only for government employees). This among other factors have led many to people questioning the efficacy of a holiday that gives many government employees the day off especially while many Indigenous people have to work. Especially as so many of the 94 Calls to Action have yet to be implemented.

“Nice words with no action hurt when they are uttered by those with power.” -Mumilaaq Qaqqaq
“Nice words with no action hurt when they are uttered by those with power.” -Mumilaaq Qaqqaq

There are many other valid criticisms of this day. One of which is the burden being placed on Indigenous people to recount their trauma for settlers’ education and understanding. Educating settlers is not the responsibility of Indigenous people and is one of the reasons why this blog post is being written by a settler. Another concern leading up to today is the performative displays made by settlers in which Indigenous trauma has been used to leverage profits. Many non-Indigenous folks used the momentum around Orange Shirt Day for their profits by stealing Indigenous artwork and selling clothing and flags for other settlers to buy to feel good about the “action” they are taking; many likely either sold shirts or purchased from non-Indigenous people without thinking about it. The reality is that we must think critically about our actions to work effectively towards reconciliation; regardless of intention, misguided actions still cause harm.

The uncovering of mass gravesites is an understandable trigger to action, but we might have expected better, earlier, action from the Government of Canada on the implementation of a national holiday and better coordination with provincial governments rather than leaving it to businesses and individuals to figure out how to manage a new holiday. It’s the same awkwardness that found Trudeau’s Liberal government filing for judicial review after they were ordered to provide compensation up to $40, 000 for each Indigenous child taken from their families after 2006 as well as to their parents and grandparents by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The federal government also filed another judicial review for charges after not enacting Jordan’s Principle for First Nations children who do not have Status under the Indian Act. In both of these acts our government wasn’t contesting the harms committed but decided that delaying justice served some interest of precedence; yet the only people harmed by the delay were the victims

“Unless you understand that something of Incredible value existed before residential schools, you can never truly understand what was taken from survivors during residential schools.” -Starleigh Grass
“Unless you understand that something of Incredible value existed before residential schools, you can never truly understand what was taken from survivors during residential schools.” -Starleigh Grass

Looking forward, how can we say we are reflecting on and remembering the impacts of Residential Schools when Indigenous children are still being taken from their families at a rapid rate and placed in the foster care system? Indigenous children make up 7% of Canadian children, yet approximately 52% of children in foster care are Indigenous according to the 2016 Canada Census. We need all of the action and urgency that we know our governments are capable of and less of the bumbling and bureaucracy.

While our governments are bumbling over these issues, incomprehensible is the only way to describe the actions Catholic Church. Will the church transparently discuss how well they have acquitted their duties to pay reparations, and acknowledge outrageous wrongs? To date the news brings the opposite story of denial, deflection and perpetuation of trauma.

How can settlers act meaningfully and be an effective ally to Indigenous people in what is currently Canada?

“I think reconciliation is a very strong [word], it’s something we want to reach … but I think the work before that which is “truth,” I think we should still focus on that first. I think we have not gone far enough in hearing each other, hearing Indigenous truth.” -Elisapie
“I think reconciliation is a very strong [word], it’s something we want to reach … but I think the work before that which is “truth,” I think we should still focus on that first. I think we have not gone far enough in hearing each other, hearing Indigenous truth.” -Elisapie

The first step to meaningful allyship is to change the way we view allyship. To be an effective ally we need to think of allyship as a verb rooted in action rather than a noun or a marker of our identities. The second step is for settlers to decentralize ourselves in conversations about issues that affect Indigenous peoples. The third step is to listen to and amplify Indigenous voices, then act following their direction. This is not as straight forward as it seems, you will stumble and at times you will be uncomfortable. To be an effective ally you need to continuously question your actions and catch yourself when you make errors. The reality is that settler action or inaction directly impacts Indigenous communities and all settlers have benefitted from and continue to benefit from Indigenous genocide.

“Be thoughtful about moments when you may inadvertently speak over the group you mean to support. It is not unusual to inadvertently put ourselves first instead of the people to whom we are trying to be an ally, but it is costly. When it happens, step aside or step back, create space, and learn from those whose lives are directly affected by the issue, rather than presenting yourself as the expert.”
-University of Georgia, Department of Psychology

Actions that settlers can take towards Indigenous allyship:

We are amplifying the words of S.A. Lawrence-Welch ᐅᒐᓂᓴ and their message to settlers about Orange Shirt Day:

The Firelight Group

“Many non-Indigenous people will be acknowledging Orange Shirt Day for the first time this year.
So I wanted to share a few important points / thoughts:”

The Firelight Group

“1.) Remember, these atrocities are very much recent. 

The shock many non-Indigenous people felt on May 27th is something ALL Indigenous people live with EVERY DAY. We have been existing with this trauma while you’ve been blissfully or willfully ignorant.”

The Firelight Group

“2.) Every Native person you know, and I mean EVERY NATIVE PERSON YOU KNOW has a family member touched by the trauma of residential, boarding and mission schools. We are not even one generation removed. The last school in Canada shut down in 1996.”

The Firelight Group

“3.) Indigenous people are not founts of experience & knowledge for you to tap on to appease your curiosities. The fact that while you get to ‘feel something’ with this ‘new’ information you can ultimately walk away from only forces us to relive the trauma via your inquiries.”

The Firelight Group

“4.) How we move forward is directly affected by your advocacy. We have been speaking on this for years, and our cries have only fallen on deaf ears. It took the recovery of over 6000 children in the US & Canada to get your attention – & that’s barely scratching the surface.”

The Firelight Group

“5.) This is still happening – it’s only changed forms. The fact that an Indigenous parent can be punished for not having the right income to support their child(ren) but a foster family can be supplemented income to ‘take care’ of a child is obnoxious – but deliberate.”

The Firelight Group

“6.) There are not enough resources to meet all the mental & emotional health needs caused by these institutions. That needs to change. Supporting national AND grassroots efforts to build community is paramount to the thrival of Indigenous folks. Donate where and when you can.”

The Firelight Group

“7.) DON’T JUDGE US. Substance dependency to smother the traumas we feel is a direct result of the system. If we aren’t able to access tools, we will find ways to ease the pain we’ve experienced.”

The Firelight Group

“8.) We are healing, but we deserve an accountability check and viable follow through from the church and government for what they’ve done. The onus isn’t solely on us to make up for the genocidal acts inflicted. If you benefit from genocide and erasure, this is on you too.”

The Firelight Group

“9.) And the last, but most important point: WE’RE STILL HERE. We are the stolen land and water you take for granted every day. We are the stars that look down on you. We are so much more than the word ‘resilient.’

Additional actions you can take:

1. Acknowledge the land you are living on.
If you don’t know what land you are living on, is a great resource.

You may have noticed we have continuously referred to Canada as ‘what is currently Canada’. This is a phrase coined by Métis-Jamaican Activist, Entrepreneur and Founder of Future Ancestors Services, Larissa Crawford. She describes this phrase as opening space up to leverage Indigenous futurism and afrofuturism beyond a settler state. You can learn more about this here:

2. Educate yourself about the history of colonization and issues that continue to affect Indigenous Peoples and encourage others to educate themselves or hold space to educate others.
Find resources here:

3. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.

4. Contact your local MP and tell them to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions 94 Calls to Action.
Find your local MP here:

5. Donate to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society.

6. Engage with Indigenous media. Amplify Indigenous voices.
You can find a list of Indigenous media here:

The Firelight Group

“Today Canadians should reflect on how this happened, how historic and ongoing genocide continues, and be intentional about self-educating about the link between residential schools of the past and what’s happening today. Because here’s the fact: residential schools are not a thing of the past. The underlying policy to destroy our nations in order to steal our lands and resources continues in a wide variety of forms. The denial of membership to thousands of First Nations women and children, the current foster care crisis, forced adoption, forced and coerced sterilizations, the incarceration of Indigenous peoples and the ongoing theft of our lands and resources, extraction of our resources leads to violence against Indigenous [peoples and especially] women and girls. Every single [settler] Canadian benefits from historic and ongoing genocide of our peoples and have a moral and legal obligation to do what you can to end it.”
-Pam Palmater