September 30th, 2022 is the second annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. If you want to honour this day through active participation and would like to find out how, then you need to know about a free event happening at the King Heritage and Cultural Centre in York Region.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation seeks to recognize the tragic legacy of residential schools, the missing Indigenous children, the Indigenous families left behind and the survivors of these institutions. While it is, in some respects, a day of mourning and sober reflection, it is also a day to honour the healing journeys of Indigenous peoples who have been impacted across generations by the unimaginably harmful policies of our nation’s past, and to engage in meaningful discussions about the history and legacy of the Canadian residential school system.
The day is also known as Orange Shirt Day. It is an observance which, although only elevated to the status of a statutory holiday one year ago, has been gaining awareness since 2013. Thanks to the tireless efforts of advocates within the Indigenous community, the dire need for truth and reconciliation across Canada has become an open and ongoing topic in recent years—one which has been embraced by Canadians from all roots, heritages, backgrounds and cultures who believe as one that every child matters, and every individual has a right to celebrate and carry forward their cultural traditions and identities.
Truth and Reconciliation in King Township
The Indigenous Action Committee, founded by siblings Ashley and Matt Bergman and their father Jay, will be hosting the event on September 30th at the King Heritage and Cultural Centre from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. It is free, outdoors, for all ages, and everyone is welcome. “We’re excited to be partnering with King Township and the King Heritage and Cultural Centre in this way,” Ashley Bergman exclaims. “They approached us because they have been seeing the work that we’re doing. They appear to be very committed to truth and reconciliation, so we decided we would host it on the grounds there—if you’ve ever been to that property, it’s beautiful.”
This multi-media event will have live entertainment such as drum performances, select speakers, dance performances in traditional regalia, and crafts for the kids. The event will also offer traditional Indigenous food including a popular dish called Indian tacos which, Ashley insists, are “absolutely scrumptious!”
In honour of Orange Shirt Day, orange shirts will be available for purchase… assuming supplies don’t run out beforehand, since they are currently available for purchase online as well. Of note, all proceeds from the sale of these unique orange shirts will be going to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society, and the Orange Shirt Society. “We did a contest over the summer seeking out Indigenous artisans to put forward their designs,” Ashley explains. “Mariah Abotossaway was the winner, and she created a meaningful depiction of the residential school system and its aftermath.”
“It’s going to be a really incredible event,” she continues. “A meaningful event. It’s not a celebration that day. It is, of course, a day of mourning and remembering, but we want to be able to have an event that brings individuals from all different communities together to learn and share in truth and reconciliation.”
For earlier events that the Indigenous Action Committee has held, non-Indigenous participants have shown great interest and support, with people coming from as far away as places like Milton, Collingwood, Sudbury and Quebec. “Without the support of non-Indigenous community members, it would be a lot harder,” Matt Bergman says. “It’s really nice that we are finally in a time where this is a conversation that’s happening in the open because, for the longest time up until the last few years, this was still something that wasn’t talked about. The fact that non-Indigenous people are being exposed to the subject matter, and that a lot of them are showing support for us and our community, is a wonderful thing and it needs to be what happens.”
“Truth and reconciliation isn’t possible without everybody making that effort,” Ashley adds. “It isn’t just on Indigenous peoples to engage in the truth and reconciliation process with their own community. It’s on all of us to find a better way to move forward that honours the past, honours the present, and paves the way for the next seven generations—because our community deserves to heal.”
Where it all began
The Bergmans’ commitment to promoting their Indigenous heritage and culture, and to providing opportunities within York Region for support and participation, is something that was fueled by a lifelong question mark over their own heritage. In the 1950s, their father was adopted into a Jewish family, and the circumstances surrounding that adoption weren’t shared. Their Jewish culture is something that the siblings embrace and value, of course. However, growing up, there were questions which arose from how they looked and how they felt compared to members of their Jewish family and community.
“We didn’t know any background whatsoever, other than that on one side of our family we might be something other than Jewish,” Ashley states. “We were never told that we might be Native or we might be Indigenous. But when we finally confirmed what we had suspicions about, it wasn’t a surprise to us. We have a term called blood memory, and that’s the idea in our culture that you never forget. You have that blood memory that will always stay connected to your community, to your heritage.”
Through their extensive inquiries, Ashley and Matt learned that they have origins in Manitoba, a place which they have never been, but now have plans to visit in the near future. They also learned that their father’s adoption was part of the “60s Scoop,” a term which refers to practices and policies in the 1950s and 1960s that allowed and encouraged social workers and welfare authorities to legally force—or otherwise coerce with words like “incapable” and “unfit”—Indigenous women to give their children up for adoption into non-Indigenous families. This was happening simultaneously with the government’s official efforts to remove Indigenous children from their families and place them into residential schools. In Ashley and Matt’s case, their biological grandmother was an Indigenous teenager with no access to legal representation, or even information—a sadly common occurrence.
“That is how so many children ended up adopted into non-Indigenous homes and completely had their culture stolen from them,” Ashley states. “Our father never grew up connected to any Indigenous culture, nor was he ever told he was Indigenous. We always just got told that we have an ‘exotic look.’”
Interestingly, even though she did not know what her heritage was, Ashley always found herself drawn to the Indigenous culture since she was a little girl. In fact, upon learning of her cultural descent, it was she that spearheaded the initiative to find out all she could about her family’s past. “I was very conflicted with not knowing where we came from,” she explains. “I wondered how we could continue to live our lives not knowing who our ancestors are, where we culturally come from. I couldn’t live my life without finding out the answers to those questions. So, I made it my mission.”
Indigenous Action Committee in action—24/7, 365
Believe it or not, the Indigenous Action Committee has only been in existence for less than a year. Upon confirming their suspicions regarding their shared heritage, Matt and Ashley decided they needed to do something to make access to community and culture easier for other Indigenous residents of York Region. “Where we are, there was practically nothing happening here,” Matt recalls. “So, we took it upon ourselves to start doing events and workshops.”
In the short time that they’ve been in operation, the amount they’ve been able to do is remarkable. “We’ve had events for all of the important days of the year,” Matt says. “We had a Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women event in May. We had an Indigenous Peoples event in June. In July we had an Indigenous pop-up music and artisan show. In August, we had a World Indigenous Day event, and in September we’re obviously having our Truth and Reconciliation event.” In terms of workshops, the Indigenous Action Committee has hosted three successful ones—a ribbon skirt making workshop, a beading workshop, and a mental health workshop on emotional regulation and how to set children up for success. In fact, there is a second workshop for ribbon skirts because the first one filled up in only 24 hours. There is also an upcoming workshop for medicine pouch making.
Incredibly, they’ve done all of this as volunteers, working around full-time careers—Ashley as a therapist, and Matt as a musician and music industry professional. “We’re volunteering our time outside of these busy professions to do this, because it’s important to make sure these events and opportunities exist,” Matt says. “So far, it’s gone really well.”
It is no surprise that, when asked how they managed to accomplish all of this in such a short period of time, Matt jokingly answers, “We don’t sleep.”
To find out more about the Indigenous Action Committee’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation event at the King Heritage and Cultural Centre on September 30th, or to register, visit the below links:
Reconciliation Day/Orange Shirt Day in York Region
King Township Museum
2920 King Rd., King City
Friday, September 30th, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Story by Katherine Ryalen