This article contains content that may distress some readers, especially those who have experienced harm, abuse and/or intergenerational trauma due to historic and ongoing colonial practices. Support is available 24 hours a day for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and for those who may be triggered by content dealing with residential schools. The national crisis line for residential school survivors is 1-866-925-4419. Survivors and their families can also contact the Hope for Wellness Help Line toll-free at 1-855-242-3310.
This coming Friday, September 30, is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada—a day to acknowledge and show solidarity with residential school survivors.
It is also an important time to reflect on this history and the ongoing legacy of the residential school system in Indigenous communities, and to read and reread the calls to action and justice as outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report published in 2015 and the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls published in 2019.
Now and always we stand with survivors; we celebrate their resiliency, honour their truths and share their stories. Below are three works by Inuit artists that speak to the residential school experience. In their own words, the artists describe their works.
Barry Pottle Yale Dormitory (Residential School) North West River Labrador (2015) Digital photograph, dimensions variable© the artist
"I spent five years (1970–75) at Yale Dorm. There were residential schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. To kill the Indian in the child applied to Inuit as well. I took this photo in 2015, knowing that I may not see this place again."
— Barry Pottle, artist
Abraham Anghik Ruben The Last Goodbye (2001) Brazilian soapstone 42.5 x 25.5 x 42.0 cm© the artist
“I clearly remember when this took place—my mother sitting with my older brother and sister, David and Martha, just before they left for the Mission school in Aklavik. David was five years old at the time and Martha was only a little older. It was a scene that was repeated later on when my other brothers and I were sent off to residential school. But this time, it was sadder for my mother, because it would be three years that David and Martha would be gone. They left in 1955 and we didn’t see them again until the latter part of 1958. Those three years had a permanent impact on my brother’s life."
— Abraham Anghik Ruben, artist
Megan Kyak-Monteith Residential School Students (2015) ink and watercolour on paper 27.9 x 35.5 cm© the artist
“I made this painting in my final year of high school, at the same time that I learned about the history of residential schools. I never experienced residential schools and thankfully, my parents didn’t either but it haunted me. I hope this work encourages people to start their own journey of reconciliation which, at its core, is learning about that truth and history and understanding exactly what it means for Indigenous people. This piece was the start to my own journey in learning about this history and I hope it opens that up for other people as well."
— Megan Kyak-Monteith, artist
We invite you to join us in marking this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation by wearing orange and exploring other recommendations from Orange Shirt Day organizers. If you are purchasing an orange shirt, take the opportunity to support Indigenous artists with your purchase. We also encourage you to spend time with and amplify the voices of Indigenous artists and creatives by visiting an exhibition near you or sharing their work online.
There are many ways to mark the day while supporting and celebrating the work of Inuit artists. Watch Inuit-directed films; both the National Film Board of Canada and CBC Gem offer collections of Indigenous-created films in a variety of genres from documentary to children’s animation. Get to know works by Inuit musicians and writers who share their stories of surviving, such as Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk’s novel Sanaaq, a 48-episode story revolving around a close-knit Inuit family whose lives are upended by the appearance of qallunaat missionaries.
Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk Sanaaq (2014; first published in syllabic Inuttitut in 1987)Courtesy University of Manitoba Press © the artist
It’s important for young ones to also participate in discussions about what reconciliation really means beyond wearing their orange T-shirts for a day. Visit the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation for more programming and ways for young people to become involved.
If you are in a position to make a donation, some organizations working to support survivors and their communities include the Legacy of Hope Foundation, the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation and the Arctic Rose Foundation. However you choose to reflect on this day, we hope you find a way that is meaningful to you.