Revealing truths toward a reconciled nation

September 30th is the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is a day to honour the children who never returned home and Survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities. It is also a day for Canadians to reflect on the painful history of Canada, and the ongoing impacts of residential schools in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. This is a critical component of the reconciliation process and response to number 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action: “ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”

The path towards reconciliation begins with truth. Regardless of how difficult or painful, the truth must always be acknowledged, along with a realization that there is still much progress to be made.

The truths that must be revealed: 

The Doctrine of Discovery

With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II, First Nations Leadership Council released a statement calling on King Charles III to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery as his first official act (numbers 45-49 of the Calls to Action in the TRC). The Doctrine of Discovery dehumanized non-Europeans and was used by the British and French to steal resources and wealth from Indigenous people across the globe, including in North America. This also includes terra nullius, which is land that was considered vacant if not occupied by Christians, even if this land belonged to Indigenous Peoples.

Child Welfare

According to last year’s census, 53.8% of all children in foster care were Indigenous, even though Indigenous children only made up 7.7% of the child population in Canada. These numbers reflect the inequality and discrimination against Indigenous children in Canada’s child welfare system. This is an unfortunate reality, further proven by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling for reformation to end discriminatory practices in First Nations Child and Family Services. Many compare the current child welfare system to the residential school system, identifying how removing Indigenous children from their homes is a deliberate and colonial practice.

The recent settlement agreement to compensate children and families affected by discrimination in First Nations Child and Family Services brings promise for justice. However, it is important to note that Métis, Inuit, and children living off-reserve will not be included in this settlement. Inuk MP, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who represents Nunavut, explained that many children within her territory were being taken from their homes and placed in the child welfare system.

Releasing records 

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) has been working to establish agreements with churches and the federal government to release records and documents to satisfy numbers 71-76 of the TRC Calls to Action, prioritizing that all children are found and honoured. Notably, the NCTR established an agreement last year with Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate to release their records. The Oblates operated 48 residential schools across Canada, including the Kamloops Indian Residential School, where 215 children were discovered in unmarked graves. In January of 2022, the federal government signed an agreement to release more than 875,000 documents to the NCTR.

Despite this progress, many churches have yet to provide the required documents and records. This can leave families with an overwhelming lack of closure, which only furthers their grieving and impedes their healing journeys. All levels of government and churches should continue efforts to ensure all documents are released and the full truth of the residential school system can be revealed.

Reconciliation & the way forward:

In June of 2022, we saw the introduction of Bill C-29: “an Act to provide for the establishment of a national council for reconciliation.” This intends to address numbers 53 and 54 of the TRC Calls to Action, which recommends the creation of a National Council to increase the government’s accountability and progress towards reconciliation. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation sees this as a small, yet promising step towards achieving the Calls to Action and reconciliation.

Across the country, Indigenous organizations are providing essential services to their communities, despite the limited funding and resources currently allocated toward reconciliation programming. Save the Children would like to bring attention to the essential work that Indigenous organizations are implementing, which relates to number 66 of the TRC’s Calls to Action: “establish multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation, and establish a national network to share information and best practice.”

We affirm that all of the TRC’s Calls to Action should be implemented by the Government of Canada.

It is integral to note that critical dialogues, action, and healing work are tirelessly being driven by Indigenous organizations as well.

The Indian Residential School Survivor Society is one of the many Indigenous organizations that contribute to truth and reconciliation, and that provides services to Survivors of the residential school system, families, and communities.

The Orange Shirt Society, founders of Orange Shirt Day (September 30), is another organization that creates awareness about the inter-generational impacts of the residential school system, and advocates that “Every Child Matters”.

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation stores statements, documents, research, and other resources on the residential school system and can be visited to learn more about the history of residential schools, and to foster reconciliation and healing.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s definition of reconciliation emphasizes the importance of mutual respect, as well as recognition of and actions towards atonement of past harms on the part of non-Indigenous peoples. As a non-Indigenous organization, Save the Children is dedicated to the required ongoing work of accountability, learning, and contribution to reconciliation. You can learn more about the National Reconciliation Program, at Save the Children here.



Assembly of First Nations “Dismantling of the Doctrine of Discovery”.

Update on First Nations Child and Family Services and Jordan’s Principle Compensation

Government of Canada “Timeline: Jordan’s Principle and First Nations child and family services”.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action

Foster care is modern-day residential school system: Inuk MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq | CBC News

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation “There are records and truths that remain to be released”.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation “Canada’s Catholic bishops’ residential school apology”.

National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation “Bill C-29 – Federal government to create national reconciliation oversight body”

Canada shares Residential School documents with National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation – NCTR