The inaugural National Day of Truth and Reconciliation (NDTR) – was a landmark day in the nation’s capital. For the first time ever, Canada’s National Cemetery – historical Beechwood Cemetery in the forested east end of Ottawa – held a day of remembrance for the young victims of our country’s notorious Indian Residential School (IRS) era – the many thousands who were taken from their families and never seen again.
In partnership with long-time reconciliation resource Project of Heart and The Caring Society, on September 30 the cemetery hosted 1300 guests in a day-long program of events to mark the NDTR. Also honoured as Orange Shirt Day, the opportunity to participate in meaningful remembrance and reflection was taken up by hundreds of educators and their students.
The day’s events included the launch of the 57,000 tile exhibit, created by learners across Canada – each tile representing the life of a child who died in an IRS.
Another highlight for many was a visit to the final resting place of Dr. Peter Bryce, the famous “good doctor” who, a hundred years ago, tried to blow the whistle on the horrific conditions in the schools, where children were starved, mistreated, and ultimately neglected to the point of death. Bryce’s dire warnings were ignored by the government of the day, most notably by the senior bureaucrat in charge of the deadly IRS administration, the notorious Duncan Campbell Scott, who promised that the schools would “kill the Indian in the child”. Scott’s grave, along with that of IRS proponent Nicholas Flood Davin, is included with Dr. Byrce’s in Beechwood’s “Reconciliation Walk”, where historically accurate gravesite plaques now tell the real story of historical personages interred in the cemetery.
“From Project of Heart’s point of view this day was a day to be cherished”, said Sylvia Smith, creator of the teaching resource that has been taught in every Canadian province and territory. “We had POH alumni from across Ontario and Quebec – teachers and students alike – come to Beechwood to see the tiles they had created join with the 57,000 others to be displayed as an entire collection for the first time ever – it was incredibly moving. And it was a wonderful opportunity for many of the alumni to meet each other at last, instead of just seeing each other’s name on an email chain all these years.”
Adding to its symbolism, the display of tiles was installed by young members of the Assembly of Seven Generations, an organization dedicated to empowering Indigenous youth.
The day’s events were well covered by various news media outlets – links to a some of the coverage are below.