National Day for Truth and Reconciliation 2022

By: Leanne Rose Vibar, undergraduate student in Psychology at Simon Fraser University


Today, September 30th, 2022, is the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, honouring Indigenous communities and residential school survivors.

It is a day dedicated to all Canadians to engage in meaningful dialogues about the history, legacy, and resilience of First Nations peoples.

What is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?

Last year in June 2021, the Canadian Government passed Bill C-5 to designate September 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (Bill C-5). This action was completed in direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action number 80, which implores the federal government, in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, to commence “as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation 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.”

As such, today recognizes the missing children and survivors of residential schools, their families, and their communities (Heritage, 2021). Previously, September 30th was colloquially regarded as Orange Shirt Day. This day pertains to the story of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwepemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Boyko, 2022). On her first day of school in 1973, she wore an orange shirt that was forcibly taken from her. This orange shirt became a symbol of the deprivation of culture, freedom, and self-esteem Indigenous peoples experience across multiple generations (Heritage, 2021).

On September 30, all Canadians are encouraged to wear orange to raise awareness of the devastating legacy of residential schools and to honour the thousands of survivors and their families (Heritage, 2021).

What is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) operated from 2008 to 2015 and provided an opportunity for those affected by the outcomes of the Residential Schools policies to convey their experiences (Heritage, 2021).

The TRC was founded through a legal agreement between Residential Schools Survivors, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit representatives, and the parties responsible for the formation and operation of the schools: the Canadian Government and the church institutions (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2020). 

Upon the conclusion of the TRC’s mandate in 2015, the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation was established and became the permanent archive for the statements, documents and other information (Heritage, 2021). Its library and holdings serve as the basis for ongoing research, education, and learning.

The Commission also published its final report addressed to all Canadians on the policies and operations of the residential schools and their enduring effects, including the Ten Principles for Reconciliation and 94 calls to action (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2020). Consequently, as the Call to Action 80 sought a federal statutory day for commemoration, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was created (Heritage, 2021).

Brief History of Residential Schools in Canada

During the mid-19th to late 20th century, Residential schools were government-endorsed religious institutions intended to integrate Indigenous populations into the larger Canadian culture (Miller, 2022). The aim of the program was to establish sovereignty in the Dominion of Canada through the removal, conversion, and assimilation of Indigenous peoples into Eurocentric settler values. In doing so, they sought to ignore Aboriginal rights and cause Aboriginal peoples and their culture to cease to exist. 

As such, around 150,000 children were forcibly removed from their families and isolated from their culture. These schools threatened the safety, health, and well-being of the children (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015). They faced unspeakable physical, psychological, and spiritual harm. While the final school closed in 1996, the long-term and intergenerational trauma effects continue (Miller, 2022).  Moreover, the recent discovery of more than 1,300 unmarked graves of Indigenous children found at the locations of former Residential schools further evoked devastation among Indigenous communities (Cardoso, 2021).

To this day, Indigenous peoples are still healing as they continue to face the harmful impacts of centuries of systemic racism and colonialism. 

Indigenous Peoples: Health and Mental Health

As Indigenous peoples have a strong connection to community and land, they have a holistic perception of health that considers the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of a person and their connection to their community (Graham et al., 2021). However, the impact of Canada’s colonial history is essential to understanding the disproportionate rates of health outcomes among Indigenous peoples (Wilk et al., 2017). Although the health and well-being of Indigenous communities have improved, Indigenous peoples continue to have higher rates of poor physical, mental, and emotional health, and reduced life expectancy (Public Health Agency Canada, 2018). They have higher rates of stress, depression, substance use challenges, and suicidal behaviours (Wilk et al., 2017). Indeed, the descendants of Residential school survivors have decreased tolerance for life stressors and increased symptomatology (Muscat et al., 2021). As multiple, sustained waves of abuse over generations amalgamate with immediate stressors, cumulative harmful effects occur. Intergenerational trauma, compounded with stress caused by racial discrimination, can elevate stress hormone levels (Rana & Lara-Cooper, 2021). This increases susceptibility to lowered immunity, metabolic disorders, and reduced life expectancy. Historical trauma also affects health by influencing Indigenous people’s views of disease and healing and, in turn, their health behaviours (Joo-Castro & Emerson, 2020).

Furthermore, the health status disparities among Native people are amplified by other crucial factors. In particular, social determinants such as environmental and economic factors affect these groups differentially because of unequal distributions of money and resources that influence health and health care accessibility (Joo-Castro & Emerson, 2020). Health services are not traditionally designed to consider experiences and their relation to various, often compounding, health problems; including mood disorders and chronic pain (Haskell & Randall, 2009). As such, it is essential to address the complex interplay of factors and recognize the root causes of an individual’s health and social issues. At the same time, there is a growing body of research on effective mental health intervention for Indigenous communities.

A systematic review by Graham and colleagues (2021) found that implementing culture into treatment provides additional benefits to reducing poor mental health outcomes among Indigenous people in Canada. For example, interventions that include culturally grounded activities, such as ceremonies, being on the land, and the Medicine Wheel. Additionally, Elder and peer mentorship and guidance also help improve mental health. Trauma-induced neural shrinkage can heal through stimulation (Rana & Lara-Cooper, 2021). Indigenous scholars believe that wellness in Native communities can be accomplished through the decolonization of healthcare and perceiving wellbeing through an integrated Indigenousperspective that exemplifies the balance between the mind, body, social, and spiritual realms (Browne et al., 2016). One possible approach to achieving this goal would be administering culturally-adapted psychotherapy to recognize the emotional damage of Western colonialism.  Moreover, this treatment may be incorporated within an Indigenous restorative health system, which may include medicine wheel teachings, healing circles, ceremonies, traditional medicines, and shamanic healing. In regards to the implementation of this research base’s results, Browne and colleagues (2016) highlight the need to attend to potentially unintended and potentially harmful impacts of strategies. Altogether, this evidence base warrants further consideration as it alludes to policy implications necessary for effective mental health practices. Legislation is important beyond treatment in institution-based services, but also in promoting health and preventing illnesses.

Our Role

Accordingly, the collaboration between Indigenous communities, healthcare organizations, and government institutions is imperative. The UBC BRAIN lab seeks to connect its research to communities. Using a culturally-responsive and trauma-informed approach, the lab is currently working on multiple projects that address the complex issues Indigenous peoples face.

As a whole, we need to work towards educating ourselves about residential schools and Indigenous views and amplifying the messages and voices of indigenous peoples. Moreover, we need to acknowledge and address the ongoing impacts of these losses on Indigenous communities across Canada. We are committed to working with indigenous communities in the design and implementation of research projects in the field of mental health and substance use, as well as advocating for the inclusion of culturally-sensitive, Indigenous-led research practices in future projects.

Today and always, let us continue to learn more about the diverse cultures, voices, and experiences of Indigenous communities and honour their legacy. Through this, we can promote reconciliation and better support Indigenous communities.





Bill C-5: An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code (National Day for Truth and Reconciliation) – Parliament of Canada. (2020).

Boyko, J. (2022). Orange Shirt Day. The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Browne, A. J., Varcoe, C., Lavoie, J., Smye, V., Wong, S. T., Krause, M., Tu, D., Godwin, O., Khan, K., & Fridkin, A. (2016). Enhancing health care equity with Indigenous populations: evidence-based strategies from an ethnographic study. BMC Health Services Research, 16(1).

Cardoso, T. (2021, August 10). Ottawa eyes appointment of independent official to help identify unmarked graves at sites of former residential schools. The Globe and Mail; The Globe and Mail.

Graham, S., Stelkia, K., Wieman, C., & Adams, E. (2021). Mental Health Interventions for First Nation, Inuit, and Métis Peoples in Canada: A Systematic Review. International Indigenous Policy Journal, 12(2), 1–31.

Haskell, L., & Randall, M. (2009, November). Disrupted Attachments: A Social Context Complex Trauma Framework and the Lives of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

Heritage, C. (2021). National Day for Truth and Reconciliation –

Joo-Castro, L., & Emerson, A. (2020). Understanding Historical Trauma for the Holistic Care of Indigenous Populations: A Scoping Review. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 39(3), 285–305.

Miller, J. (2022). Residential Schools in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Muscat, S.-A., Wright, G. D., Bergeron, K., Morin, K. W., Crouch, C. R., & Hartelius, G. (2021). Ketamine-Assisted and Culturally Attuned Trauma Informed Psychotherapy as Adjunct to Traditional Indigenous Healing: Effecting Cultural Collaboration in Canadian Mental Health Care. Behavioral Sciences, 11(9), 118.

Public Health Agency Canada. (2018). Key health inequalities in Canada: A national portrait. Government of Canada.

Rana, M., & Lara-Cooper, K. (2021). Identity, Relationships, and Community as Antidotes for Historic and Race-Based Trauma: Lessons from Sikh and Indigenous Communities. Adversity and Resilience Science, 2(4), 269–284.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2015). Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada; McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (2020). NCTR.

Wilk, P., Maltby, A., & Cooke, M. (2017). Residential schools and the effects on Indigenous health and well-being in Canada—a scoping review. Public Health Reviews, 38(1).



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