Breadcrumb trail

Ombudsman’s statement on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation


September 30, 2021 – Today marks Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #80 to establish a statutory holiday “to honour survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

Since 2013, September 30 has been observed as Orange Shirt Day to recognize the colonial legacy of the Indian Residential ‘Schools’ and commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. Orange Shirt Day recalls the experience of residential ‘school’ survivor Phyllis Webstad, who at six was stripped of her shiny new orange shirt on her first day attending the St. Joseph Mission Residential School. The Orange shirt now symbolizes how the residential ‘school’ system stripped away the Indigenous identities of its students. September 30th represents the time of year when Indigenous children were forcibly taken away from their families.

The recent tragic uncovering of the remains of more than 1,500 Indigenous children in unmarked graves near former residential ‘schools’ across Canada serves as a sombre reminder of the systemic oppression, inequalities, and discrimination that Indigenous peoples have endured over the past centuries, and the injustices and challenges they continue to face today. Under the residential school system, more than 150,000 Indigenous children were forcibly separated from families and communities, in an attempt by the Government of Canada to eliminate their culture, languages, and traditions. This has been recognized as cultural genocide. These children were dehumanized, abused, neglected, starved and many were killed. They suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and a lack of proper care. Thousands of children who were sent to these ‘schools’ never returned home. The exact number of children who died may never be known and, devastatingly, many parents may never learn the truth of what happened to their children. The trauma experienced by survivors has devastating effects on their mental health and are transferred intergenerationally to their descendants. We must ensure survivors and their families have the necessary cultural supports, ceremonies and traditional medicines to help them heal.

The OFOVC acknowledges the harm done through the residential ‘school’ experience, we witness and honour the resilience and healing journey of the survivors and their families, and we commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation. We will continue to raise the voices of affected Indigenous peoples who seek fair treatment and respect for their rights in the criminal justice system.

If you need support at this time, please reach out to one of the helplines below:

  • Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419
  • Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310
  • Talk 4 Healing Help Line: 1-888-200-9997

Additionally, there are resources offered by various Indigenous communities, band offices and health centers.


Heidi Illingworth
Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime