Reconciliation must come with justice, says Nunavut MP Lori Idlout on the topic of Orange Shirt Day.

With the rediscovery of thousands of unmarked graves of Indigenous children being found on residential school grounds across Canada last year, there has been an outpouring of empathy from the rest of the country.

“These are not new conversations for me. It’s always meaningful when there’s empathy, however, at this point I feel like I’m beyond empathy,” said Idlout. “What we need to start is moving from empathy to action so we can see improvements that can be meaningfully made for Inuit, First Nations and Metis to also be thriving in Canadian society.”

Indigenous over-representation in the Canadian foster care system and the federal government’s subsequent battle to fight compensation for those children would be examples of ongoing injustice, Idlout says.

Pope Francis’s visit to Canada in July has helped raise more awareness of the matter.

“He acknowledged what his church has done and that there needs to be a better path forward,” said Idlout. “For him to tell his parishioners to work with Indigenous people was a very important direction that we as Inuit, First Nations and Metis needed to hear.”

She says she immediately felt the impact of the Pope’s words, having started to work with French politicians on bringing Johannes Rivoire to face the Canadian justice system. Rivoire is a Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing Inuit children across the Arctic. He was in Canada from the early 1960s to 1993 before moving back to France, where he currently resides.

“Justice shouldn’t be considered in its speed… and in order for justice to be real I understand time is needed,” Idlout said.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — also known as Orange Shirt Day — was elevated to a statutory holiday in 2021.

For the last few years, Idlout has stopped celebrating Canada Day due to a lack of progress with regards to justice and reconciliation, which makes the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Day carry even more weight.

“It’s such an important event because it brings awareness to the importance of reconciliation,” she said.

There were 14 residential schools in what is now Nunavut, which operated from 1955 to 1995. Conversations around truth and reconciliation among Inuit, First Nations and Metis peoples can be difficult, but there are supports available, said Idlout.

“I know people during these times tend to be triggered because of the conversations that it sparks. I just really hope that Indigenous people realize that they can go to their own peoples for support.”

There are a number of crisis helplines residential school Survivors and their families can access. This included the Nunavut Kamatsiaqut Helpline at 1-800-265-3333 or 867-979-3333. People can also reach out to the National Indian Residential School Crisis at 1-866-925-4419.

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