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Beginning Our Reconciliation Journey

Beginning Our Reconciliation Journey

Hansell McLaughlin Advisory Group joined with other Canadians in marking the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th, 2021. This day honours the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities. We would like to share the beginning of our reconciliation journey with you to encourage discussion and to learn from each other.

Reconciliation begins with understanding the history of the residential school system in Canada. The report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) calls out the residential schools as a central element of Canada’s Aboriginal policy. Church-run residential schools first opened in 1831 and were funded by the government beginning in the 1880s. The purpose of the residential schools, the TRC report notes, was to separate Indigenous children from their families in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages and to indoctrinate children into the culture of the legal-dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society. The report of the TRC describes the government’s intent in creating residential schools as “cultural genocide”.

The TRC report issued 94 Calls to Action. Calls to Action #27 and #92 call specifically upon the legal community and the corporate sector to develop frameworks and policies aimed at reconciling with Indigenous peoples. As a member of both industry groups, Hansell McLaughlin Advisory Group is committed to building a respectful relationship with those who identify as First Nations, Inuit and Métis in the community in which we work and live.

Every member of our firm has read The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty.1 In his book, Augie Merasty describes the abuse he suffered at the St. Therese Residential School to help shed light on the experiences of many Indigenous people. We have all passed our copy of the book on to someone else and have asked the recipients to read and reflect on the memoir and to then pass it on to someone else.

A week prior to National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, we gathered to listen to Dr. Gabrielle Lindstrom.2 Dr. Lindstrom spoke about personal and familial experiences as a member of the Kainaiwa Nation and the cultural differences between the Kainaiwa Nation and non-Indigenous Canadians. She spoke to us about truth, allyship and reconciliation. She challenged firm members to reflect on their own inherent biases and what it means to be an ally with the community (or “good relative”). We are in the process of scheduling additional learning opportunities with Dr. Lindstrom.

Finally, we joined with many others in marking Orange Shirt Day, an Indigenous-led grassroots initiative.3 Orange Shirt Day honours the children who survived and those who did not survive the residential schools. It originates from the experience of a six-year-old girl from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation. On her first day at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in British Columbia in 1973, Phyllis Webstad was wearing the orange shirt that her grandmother had given her. In her words:

I went to the Mission for one school year in 1973/1974. I had just turned 6 years old. I lived with my
grandmother on the Dog Creek reserve. We never had very much money, but somehow my granny
managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store
and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting –
just like I felt to be going to school!

When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt!
I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color
orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and
how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.4

Orange Shirt Day presents an opportunity to create meaningful discussion on the effects of and the legacy that residential schools have left behind. We wore orange shirts on Orange Shirt Day to raise awareness and shared our support on LinkedIn. We identified a supplier selling them for the benefit of the Anishnawbe Health Foundation.5

Like many Canadians, we are at the beginning of our reconciliation journey and will continue to build our relationship with the Indigenous community. We welcome thoughts and collaboration from other members of the business and legal communities.

1 “The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir” By Joseph Auguste Merasty can be purchased on Amazon.

2 Dr. Lindstrom is an Educational Development Consultant (Indigenous Ways of Knowing) at the University of Calgary. She has a teaching background in First Nation, Métis, and Inuit history and current issues, Indigenous Studies, Indigenous cross-cultural approaches, and Indigenous research methods and ethics. She has extensive experience speaking at conferences and has authored many publications. If you would like to contact Dr. Lindstrom to discuss furthering your own reconciliation efforts, you may contact her at gabrielle.lindstrom@ucalgary.ca.

3 The Orange Shirt Society is a non-profit organization that is based in Williams Lake, BC where Orange Shirt Day began in 2013. It facilitates various Orange Shirt Day events and brings awareness to the cause.

4 Phyllis’ Story: The original orange shirt, Orange Shirt Day.

5 The orange shirts worn on Orange Shirt Day by Hansell McLaughlin Advisory Group were purchased from Old’s Cool General Store. All proceeds from the sale of the shirts were donated to the Anishnawbe Health Foundation.