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Teepees in Toronto: Events across GTA to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Teepees will line the space outside city hall on Friday as Toronto prepares to mark the third annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Crews were busy constructing the teepees on Thursday at Nathan Phillips Square, where the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre, a cultural agency, will hold its sixth annual Indigenous Legacy Gathering.

Erik Wakegijig, who works in the council fire’s youth and social media sectors, said there will be full days of programming on both Friday and Saturday, which is the official day.

“It really showcases that us, we Indigenous people, aren’t just things that you can read about in your textbooks in high school. We’re people who live in the community,” he said.

“We live in Toronto. We don’t just live out in the woods. These type of things are just ways for us to let people know that we exist, we’re here, and celebrate with us,” he said.

On its website, the council says the gathering is an “avenue where stories, teachings, and the vibrant traditions of our people are shared and appreciated through workshops, presentations, dance, film, and music.”

Billed as a celebration and an educational experience, the gathering is one of the main events honouring the day in Toronto, aiming reflect the diversity of Indigenous cultures. The council says the event this year is about “honouring our Grandmother Moon.” Each teepee will feature an organization.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a time to remember children who died while being forced to attend church-run and government-funded residential schools, those who survived and made it home and the families and communities still affected by the lasting trauma. The day is also known as Orange Shirt Day.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend church-run, government-funded residential schools between the 1870s and 1997. The schools aimed to assimilate Indigenous children while eradicating Indigenous languages and cultures, and there was widespread abuse.

Day holds many meanings

But the day itself can mean different things to different people. 

Anthony Gladue, a storyteller, said the day is a time for Indigenous people to remember residential school trauma and it’s a time for non-Indigenous people to understand that trauma. He said it is important to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

“It’s a time to remember who we are as Anishinaabe people to find our spirit once again,” Gladue said.

Anthony Gladue
Anthony Gladue, a storyteller, says of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation: ‘It’s a time to remember who we are as Anishinaabe people to find our spirit once again.’ (CBC)

Dean Doxtator, a residential school survivor, said the day is emotional and hits home. He said he’s not sure if Canadians understand the full impact of residential schools on Indigenous peoples.

“We sent our kids to school. They’re supposed to return home. These kids didn’t return home. I’m lucky to be here today because I was in residential school and I was in day school. I know ones that have gone missing,” he said.

Orange Shirt Day began in 2013 to honour residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, who had her orange shirt taken away on her first day at St. Joseph Mission Residential School. The shirt was a gift from her grandmother. 

“The orange shirt is a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations,” the federal government says.

Both Friday and Saturday will begin with a sunrise ceremony. The days, mostly scheduled the same way, will feature land acknowledgements, information about the city’s plans for a Spirit Garden at Nathan Phillips Square, Indigenous dancing, drumming, singing, vendors, lacrosse teachings, sacred fire teachings and Metis fiddlers and jugglers. 

On Friday night, there will be a full moon ceremony.

Other events happening in Toronto:


  • Commemorate Truth & Reconciliation: Andrew Balfour, Marie Gaudet, Jimmy Dick, Julian Taylor, Zoey Roy and more at Koerner Hall on Friday at 8 p.m. Indigenous artists gather to honour those affected by residential schools and offer hope for the future. Tickets start at $40.
  • Orange Shirt Day and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Commemoration at Great Hall, Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle, on Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.


  • Native Child and Family Services of Toronto’s 26th Annual Community Pow Wow, Dufferin Grove Park (875 Dufferin St.), Grand Entry: 12 p.m.
  • National Day for Truth and Reconciliation at the Toronto Zoo on Saturday from 9:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. A smudge ceremony will take place from 9:15 a.m. to 9:30  a.m. at the zoo’s front entrance to open the zoo. From 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at the First Nations Art Garden (near Caribou Café), there will be an orange shirt pin craft, tobacco ties, pelt touch table and traditional medicines. The zoo will offer complimentary admission to all self-identifying Indigenous people.
  • National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Event at the Kortright Centre for Conservation on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00pm. This public event is offered in partnership with True North Aid, a non-Indigenous organization which provides humanitarian assistance to remote Indigenous communities across Canada. The activities will involve a self-guided tour of Truth and Reconciliation related themes along the Kortright Centre for Conservation trail system.
  • Truth and Reconciliation Day on Saturday from 12 noon to 8 p.m., hosted by aaniin retail inc. at Stackt Market, 28 Bathurst St. There will be Indigenous artisans from across Ontario and musical performances from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund will partner with local media and radio stations around Canada on Saturday for a panel discussion. Guests will speak about Indigenous identity through conversations about representation in sports and entertainment, the fusion of traditional and contemporary music, land protection and the impacts of climate change and more, the organizations say.

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