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Vaughan mayor encourages residents to ‘dedicate time to study the history’ of residential schools
Oct. 4, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

As Canada marked its first-ever federal statutory holiday for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Sept. 30, Vaughan lowered the nation’s flag to half-mast outside its city hall.

Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua paid his tribute to the day dubbed as “sombre” by him and the city in a statement published online.

Bevilacqua also urged people to use resources at the city’s public libraries to further educate themselves about the atrocities that took place, and to reflect.

“On Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, let us pause and reflect on this moment of national mourning and remember the First Nation, Métis and Inuit victims and survivors of residential schools in Canada,” he said

“As we observe this solemn day, we must also answer the call to action to continue working towards truth and reconciliation.”

The mayor said without reconciliation, “We cannot move forward.”

“I also encourage citizens to dedicate time to study the history of the residential school system and learn more about how they can support First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities.”

Vaughan Public Libraries is offering a week-long program and is featuring a list of books containing memoirs from people who attended residential schools in Canada.

In a note about its collection, VPL has adopted new subject headings relating to Indigenous people and places.

"The new search terms were created by the Greater Victoria Public Library in conjunction and consultation with Indigenous groups, the intention being to move away from traditional subject headings that refer to Indigenous people in outdated, colonial ways," VPL said on its page.

"These more accurate and respectful search terms will be included for all new items that enter the libraries’ collections as well as updating existing material in the catalogue."

VPL said the effort is a work in progress.

Meanwhile, during Vaughan’s Sept. 27 council meeting, Bevilacqua brought forward two member’s resolutions that were unanimously endorsed by council. The first acknowledges Sept. 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and reaffirms council’s existing recognition of Orange Shirt Day.

In June, the federal government announced the creation of a new statutory holiday known as the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation to be recognized on Sep. 30 each year as part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call-to-Action; however, Ontario decided not to make it a statutory holiday.

Council's second resolution recognizes Monday, Oct. 4 as Sisters in Spirit Day to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

While only recently these atrocities are being identified and recognized, Indigenous Peoples have passed down these tragic stories via oral histories. This explains why many Canadians don't know the elaborate and detailed history of what had happened.

However, the unearthing of unmarked graves has changed the historical narrative.

The TRC’s Final Report, meanwhile, estimates that between 4,000 and 6,000 children died in residential schools. Indigenous people even consider this estimate conservative. Causes of death included physical abuse, malnutrition, disease and neglect. Others died by suicide, or by trying to escape the schools.