September 30, 2021
Dear members of the McGill community,
With the recognition of 30 September as a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, known since 2013 as Orange Shirt Day, I invite you to reflect on the history and legacy of the residential school system that operated in Canada in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. All members of our community are welcome to share statements of reflection and commitment through the Indigenous Initiatives website, and to participate in events scheduled across our University.
For over 130 years, more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were removed, often forcibly, from their homes and communities with the aim of isolating them from their families, traditions, and cultures. Thousands of children died at the schools as a direct result of abuse and neglect. Many who survived the trauma of the experience, deprived of their languages and identities, were never reunited with their families. In recognition of these losses, the McGill University flag will be lowered today.
The devastating legacy of the residential schools endures across generations of Indigenous families and belongs to a larger history of systemic racism, discrimination, and injustice that Indigenous peoples have endured and continue to face in Canada.
The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) reminds us that “reconciliation is not possible without knowing the truth”. These words have particular resonance for an institution and a community dedicated to the pursuit of learning and knowledge. McGill University recognizes the shared responsibility to ensure that the experiences of the victims and survivors of the residential schools are known and never forgotten. We likewise have the responsibility to address historical and contemporary systems of oppression, to acknowledge the errors of our own past and of our founders, and to forge a better, more inclusive future. The imperatives expressed in the Calls to Action of the TRC and in McGill’s own 52 Calls to Action continue to guide our progress in these respects.
Today, I, together with other University leaders, members of the staff in the Office of the Provost, and people across the country, will wear the orange shirts that represent a commitment to reconciliation. I ask all members of our community to take time to reflect on our shared history, to learn about residential schools and, importantly, about the rich and varied Indigenous cultures across our country.
With best regards,
Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)
To learn more about the residential school system
A formal residential school system for Indigenous children operated in Canada from 1863 until 1996, with evidence of schools having existed from the seventeenth century. In total, more than 130 federally supported schools were established in nearly every province and territory.
Between 2008 and 2014, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) heard and documented the testimonies of approximately 7,000 residential school survivors. Acknowledging that the number of deaths in the residential schools is likely significantly higher than what is officially known, the TRC’s Calls to Action include an appeal to the federal government to accurately detail the number of children who died and to locate their bodies so that they can be properly memorialized.
Orange Shirt Day was inaugurated by Esketemc (Alkali Lake) Chief Fred Robbins, with the shirts themselves recalling the orange shirt that was taken from Phyllis (Jack) Webstad the day she entered a residential school at six years old.
Any member of the McGill community in need of support should reach out to the resources below.
A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line is available to provide support to residential school survivors and those affected. You can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-Hour National Crisis Line at 1-866-925-4419.
The Hope for Wellness helpline can be reached 24/7 at 1-855-242-3310.
Keep.meSAFE is a 24/7/365 mental health counselling service available to McGill students
Learn how to access care from the Student Wellness Hub *please note that the Wellness Hub is not available to students registered in School of Continuing Studies programs and courses
School of Continuing Studies students can access mental health services, including access to professional psychologists, as per their plan agreement
For peer-based support, students can reach out to Nightlineor Chatline, or reach out to the Peer Support Centre for online appointments and drop-ins
International students who have Medavie Blue Cross insurance are covered for online medical consultations and memberships with Maple Virtual Care
Eligible faculty and staff may contact the Employee and Family Assistance Program