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Orange Shirt Day? What To Know About Canada's National Day For Trust And Reconciliation

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In Canada, Sept. 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honor and commemorate residential school survivors and the indigenous children who never came home.

The observance was first created in 2013 but became a designated statutory holiday in 2021 following the discovery of over 1,000 unmarked graves near former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

What Happened: Canadians across the country are encouraged to wear orange-colored shirts to show a unified step toward building relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. The event was inspired by the story of Phyllis Webstad, who is Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band) and a residential school survivor.

Why It Matters: The residential school system was funded by the Canadian government and run primarily by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches. The system forced indigenous children to boarding schools where they were stripped of their identities, beaten and forced to work to raise money for the schools. Sexual abuse was common and the conditions of the schools were so poor that diseases such as tuberculosis ran rampant.

The residential school system has lasting impacts that continue to disrupt indigenous communities — families were severed, language and traditions were lost and the mental and physical health of survivors and their families for generations will be severely affected.

Bringing Awareness: The late Gord Downie, lead singer for The Tragically Hip, spent the last years of his life raising awareness of the impacts of residential schools and in 2016 released an album called "The Secret Path."

The album tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who died from hunger and exposure after escaping from Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential school and trying to walk back to his home. The album was turned into a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire and can be watched here.

How Two of Canada’s Companies Are Working Toward Reconciliation: The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (NYSE: CM) and Suncor Energy, Inc (NYSE: SU) have both recently extended their business initiatives to help support indigenous communities in the country. On Sept. 29, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce released an expanded framework to help indigenous people gain access to a housing loan program and various lending services.

On Sept. 16, Suncor announced a partnership with eight indigenous communities to acquire TC Energy’s 15% equity interest in the Northern Courier Pipeline Limited Partnership. The deal is valued at $1.5 billion and will provide long-term revenue for the indigenous communities.

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