National Indigenous History Month

As National Indigenous History Month draws to a close, we recognize that this has been an extremely difficult time for Indigenous communities. The recent discoveries at former residential schools have renewed the trauma faced by survivors, intergenerational survivors, families, and communities. It has also brought the harsh reality of the residential school system to the forefront for many non-Indigenous Canadians, some for the first time. In the face of such tragedy, it is easy to feel helpless. However, there are many tangible ways to help.

  1. DONATE – If you have the means to donate there are some wonderful organizations doing essential work locally and across Canada. Here are three but there are many more.

Indian Residential School Survivors Society – The IRSSS provides essential services to Residential School Survivors, their families, and those dealing with Intergenerational traumas. Based in BC they assist Survivors across the country.

Woodland Cultural CenterWoodland Cultural Centre serves to preserve and promote Indigenous history, art, language, and culture. They welcome visitors to learn with them as they bring the story of the Haudenosaunee people of the Eastern Woodlands to life through innovative exhibitions and programs.

The Woodland Cultural Centre also runs the Save the Evidence campaign. The campaign is to raise awareness and support for the restoration of the former Mohawk Institute Residential School and to develop the building into an Interpreted Historic Site and Educational Resource.  As a site of conscience, the final goal is to create a fully realized Interpretive Centre that will be the definitive destination for information about the history of Residential Schools in Canada, the experiences of Survivors of the schools, and the impact that the Residential School system has had on our communities.

Orange Shirt Day Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events. As a spokesperson for the Reunion group leading up to the events, former student Phyllis (Jack) Webstad told her story of her first day at residential school when her shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken from her as a six-year old girl.  

The annual Orange Shirt Day on September 30th opens the door to global conversation on all aspects of Residential Schools. It is an opportunity to create meaningful discussion about the effects of Residential Schools and the legacy they have left behind.  A discussion all Canadians can tune into and create bridges with each other for reconciliation.  A day for survivors to be reaffirmed that they matter, and so do those that have been affected.  Every Child Matters, even if they are an adult, from now on. 

Today many schools boards recognize Orange Shirt Day on September 30th including Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board and Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board.

2. EDUCATION – It is essential that non-Indigenous Canadians know and acknowledge the history and ongoing effects and trauma of the residential school system. There are many ways to learn more. is a First Nations family-owned business passionate about Indigenous education. They have an easy-to-navigate website with lots of books available to purchase for learners of all ages. They also have lots of excellent additional resources on many subjects and grade levels. You can order online and they are also currently open for curbside and in-person shopping.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action – Familiarizing yourself with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action is a great way to learn more about what you can do to support reconciliation. A great introduction to this document is this child-friendly version.

Woodland Cultural Centre – In addition to being a wonderful place to donate, Woodland Cultural Centre also has lots of resources available to learn more. You can support them by purchasing their educational bundles in their new online shop!

3. AMPLIFY – Use your voice to tell others, support Indigenous initiatives, then teach others what you have learned. 

Follow – Use the power of social media for good! Look for Indigenous educators, activists, artists, and other accounts. Follow them, engage with their content, and share (with permission) on your accounts.

Purchase – Support Indigenous businesses and creators. Rather than heading right to the big box stores see if you can make your purchase from a local Indigenous business. And when people admire your newest piece of art, clothing, jewelry, make-up, or book, let them know where they can buy it from too!

Teach – Most importantly, share what you have learned with other non-Indigenous Canadians and allies. Share the resources that you have found most useful to you. Tell your friends about the great book you just read, the museum exhibit you saw, or the account you followed on social media. Indigenous voices are strong and powerful – let’s make sure they are heard by all.

We hope that these resources and suggestions have been helpful. We are by no means the experts on residential schools or the intergenerational effects they continue to have on Indigenous communities. We look to the experts – Indigenous leaders and organizations for the best information and guidance. In addition to the resources already covered the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic has compiled a list of local Indigenous Resources.

This month has been one of deep grief and reckoning. However, the country also recognizes National Indigenous Peoples Day, a day to celebrate the people and cultures that have been here since time immemorial. Indigenous peoples are still here. This is a great reminder that recognition of Indigenous history and peoples does not end on June 30th. Continue to learn and celebrate year-round. Find an Indigenous author in your favourite genre, set up a monthly donation to your favourite organization, or purchase a piece of art to admire every time you come through your door.

We leave you with these readings of books by Indigenous authors. While we grieve and mourn we remain hopeful and take action with intent.