On September 30, we wear orange to honour survivors of the Indian residential school system. It has become one small way to acknowledge the atrocities of colonization and commit ourselves to reconciliation.
I wear orange to remember the children who were taken, the languages that were silenced and the ceremonies that were condemned. I wear orange but I realize that reconciliation cannot be contained in one day or achieved with a bright garment. Reconciliation requires relationships; it involves respect and it demands our commitment to the truth. It might begin with an orange shirt, but reconciliation is a long journey that is found as we walk gently with Creator and the created.
Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation have become a moment to listen and learn from the survivors of residential schools and grieve the children who did not return home. They have become a catalyst to acknowledge the injustices that continue to face Indigenous communities and to turn our thoughts and prayers into the difficult work of right relations.
In Mi’kmaw, the word we use for welcome is pjila’si. As I continue to learn the Mi’kmaw language and ceremonies, I realize that words sometimes lose meaning in translation. Pjila’si is one of those words. When I heard my language keepers share the original meaning, I realized it held such a deep invitation. It was rooted in a call for right relations to come and sit, to gather close and listen.
In these days where reconciliation has become an overused word, I invite you into the journey of right relations. Where the first step is to come and sit, to listen and learn.
Pjila’si, I invite you to come and sit: to listen to the stories of residential school survivors and to learn about colonial practices that continue to impact Indigenous communities.
Pjila’si, I invite you to come and sit: to watch Phyllis Webstad share her story about the residential school system, giving vision to Orange Shirt Day. I encourage you to visit www.orangeshirtday.org to find ways to learn, support and donate to this important cause.
Pjila’si, I invite you to come and sit: to learn about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and become familiar with the 94 Calls to Action, which invite Canadians, governments, churches and public institutions to move toward reconciliation (https://nctr.ca/records/reports/).
Pjila’si, I invite you to come and sit: to learn from Indigenous authors, filmmakers and musicians. Their gift of storytelling provides new perspectives and ways to engage with the stories of these lands. (For recommendations, please visit www.samissionresource.ca/indigenousministries).
Pjila’si, I invite you to come and sit: to hear the stories of the land on which you now reside. To learn about the first peoples and how the mighty rivers, the outstretched skies, the rocky shorelines or the snow-capped mountains hold sacred stories of Creator (www.native-land.ca).
Pjila’si, I invite you to come and sit: to find opportunities to decolonize your thinking, actions and words so that your next steps will be walked in humility.
Pjila’si, I invite you to come and sit because the road to reconciliation will not be rushed.
Captain Crystal Porter is the associate territorial Indigenous ministries consultant, divisional Indigenous ministries consultant and divisional children and youth secretary in the Prairie Division.