Several virtual events and initiatives held across the Conestoga community marked Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The national day of recognition, which coincides with Orange Shirt Day on September 30, honours the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities, and provides opportunities to create meaningful dialogue and reflection around reconciliation.
Conestoga’s Student Engagement team, Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, Employee Experience & Development, and Conestoga Students Inc. collaborated to host the college’s fifth annual Truth and Reconciliation event on September 29. The session welcomed the college community for conversations to increase understandings and strengthen paths forward.
“The discovery in recent months of thousands of unmarked and undocumented graves of former residential school sites shocked and horrified our nation,” said Conestoga President John Tibbits during welcome remarks. “We cannot change the past or undo the wrongs that have been done, but recognizing and acknowledging this legacy is an important step towards achieving the goals outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Report.”
Participants at the event heard from Elder and survivor Geronimo Henry of the Cayuga Nation. Henry, who spent 11 years at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, shared his journey as a reminder of the legacy of residential schools and to challenge the community to think about the role they play in reconciliation.
On September 30, the School of Health & Life Sciences hosted an internal session to also commemorate the national day of recognition. Carly Szabo, a registered nurse and training specialist with the college’s Canadian Institute for Seniors Care, led a presentation to reflect on the residential school system and the collaborative commitment needed to learn about the past, respect the present, and build a future. Szabo is an Anishinaabe woman belonging to the Bear Clan of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
In addition to events that engaged the college community, a number of resources were made available to students and employees to contribute to greater awareness and understanding. The Conestoga Bookstore also had a supply of Orange Shirt Day-themed apparel to purchase, with proceeds supporting a restoration project at the Mt. Elgin Industrial Institute Heritage Building site by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.
Close to 150,000 Indigenous children were sent to residential schools in Canada between 1831 and 1996, separated from families and stripped of language, culture and tradition to force assimilation. More than 6,000 survivors were compelled to tell their stories during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada from 2008 to 2015, many detailing instances of severe neglect, abuse and sexual assault, and experiences that have left intergenerational impacts on families and communities.
Conestoga is committed to the process of reconciliation and support for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Significant efforts have been made to support Indigenous education and meet the needs of Indigenous students at the college. Conestoga’s Be-Dah-Bin Gamik, established over a decade ago, supports the success of Indigenous students through ongoing services that assist in successful transitions to college life and connections to cultural traditions. Be-Dah-Bin Gamik also engages the broader college community through the development of resources, activities and events that build broader understandings of Indigenous Peoples and cultures while promoting the reconciliation process.
To learn more about indigenizing post-secondary education and to access resources, including the Truth and Reconciliation Report and its calls to action, visit Be-Dah-Bin Gamik.