On September 30, 2021, Canada observed the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day to mourn the children who never made it home, honour the victims and celebrate the survivors of Canada's residential school system.

A statutory holiday was appointed in June 2021 to commemorate the tragic legacy of residential schools in Canada, receiving royal assent after the bill passed unanimously in the Senate. Before the passage of this bill, Canadians have also marked September 30 as Orange Shirt Day. This day began as a movement by Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor, in memory of a piece of clothing taken from her on her first day at a residential school in 1973.

Below is an open letter written by Glenn Nolan, Past PDAC President and the organization's first Indigenous President, and current member of the Indigenous Affairs Committee. Here he reflects on the meaning of this day and the concept of truth and reconciliation.

Reflections on Truth and Reconciliation

By Glenn Nolan, Vice President, Government Affairs - Ring of Fire Metals

Following Canada’s first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, I’d like to share my thoughts on residential schools, education, and healing.

Over the last few months, as the bodies of hundreds of children have been discovered near residential schools in western Canada and I’m sure more will be discovered as other school lands are surveyed, I have had a number of inquiries from well-educated friends who want to know more about the residential school system.

One question I was asked more than once, was:  “Were there some good things that came out of the residential schools?”

It isn’t because these were insensitive or uncaring people. In fact, I believe these are people who really want to understand residential schools and how they have had such a lasting impact on our communities, our families and individuals – sometimes several generations of a family attended these schools — and this is what I told them. 

Education, when done correctly, is a catalyst for meaningful positive change from generation to generation. But when does education become a place of dominance, torture, and sexual and physical assault? When does education rip families apart or force upon the student a worldview that is as different from who they are? This education system for ‘Indians’ resulted in whole communities losing their language and culture and their connection to their families. Some suffered through days and nights and months and sometimes years of assaults at the hands of individuals who were supposed to protect and care for them.


Residential schools were not a place of education as we know it today. The schools became a place of sadness, hopelessness, pain and loss; the loss of everything that made these children human beings and tied to a unique culture with history, spiritual beliefs and language.

Without a doubt, what occurred to our youth, families and communities was a tragic multi-year event in our country. It is hard to believe that the intention of the designers of the school system for Indigenous people was an accident.

Someone, somewhere, regardless of the era or the region in Canada, should have stood up and said what was happening to Indigenous people was wrong.

Like all Indigenous people everywhere, our history is complicated and, for outsiders, confusing. Some communities are still isolated physically and psychologically from what most of us know as Canadian society. Others, like my community, Missanabie Cree, were more integrated with Canadian society, and today our prosperity, be it financially, social or professional, I believe is directly tied to our integration into the larger Canadian society. What we do have in common with all the other communities is the impact of residential schools and the trauma our relatives experienced while they were there.

How does a family recover from having its children ripped from their home? Parents were threatened with jail if they didn’t have their children ready to be picked up and delivered at the beginning of the school year.

I have an older cousin who was sent to the Shingwauk school near Sault Ste. Marie when he was three. Because of his age, he was put out in the chicken coup during the day because he was too young to attend school.  Who thought this was a good idea?

My cousin continues to suffer to this day from the trauma he endured at that school.

My grandfather, who attended the St Johns school in Chapleau, Ontario in the early part of the 1900s, reluctantly shared his experiences while a student there. He spoke of a time when his class witnessed a young student in grade four who had been beaten unconscious by a male teacher. The young boy never came back to school, and the story was that the boy died of his injuries. The teacher was transferred to another school operated by the Anglican Church.

From my perspective, nothing good came from residential schools.

My community, the Missanabie Cree First Nation, was not immune to the impacts of our youth attending residential schools. Missanabie Cree is a signature to treaty nine. Treaty nine covers the northern part of Ontario, an area larger than France. My community signed Treaty 9 in 1905. It took until 2019 before our land was returned to us in the form of a reserve and compensation paid for 114 years of neglect. It challenged our resolve as a community and as families. We lost much over those years, including our language, and many of our relatives died violent or self-inflicted deaths.

We suffered much of what ails many communities today. Add in the removal of our children, the torture, and sexual and physical assault against many of the children of that time. How can one expect people to come out of that without issues?

According to stories I have been told by older relatives, including my dad, the level of domestic violence, sexual assault, and addiction was intertwined throughout families and the community. People died from beatings, being shot, suicides, alcoholism, and car crashes while under the influence. Children, some as young as four years old, were sexually assaulted by close relatives.  Our homes were overcrowded without electricity and running water, and some only had tarpaper covering the walls to keep the heat in during the cold winter months.

I think often about where my community is today. I look at the success we have had and continue to have. Our success wasn’t without our own trauma, our own self harm, our own actions that took away from our potential. But we succeeded in spite of government indifference, spiritual oppression, and laws and policies that told our people we were less than those Canadians who didn’t look like us.

Somehow my community ended up following a path that raised a generation of people up from a very dark place. I believe it was the opportunity of finding meaningful work at a mine that was in our traditional territory. In 1949, the Renabie gold mine started operations. Many of our men from my community went to work there.  Unlike today, the company built a town at the mine to house the families and workers. Those men from the community who went to work there brought their families, and they received more than adequate housing. For the first time in their life, they had running water, toilets inside their houses, electricity and safer fuel oil stoves.


These families that ended up working at the mine started to see a different way to live. What was normal back home — violence and drinking — was a much rarer occurrence. For those who moved to the mining town, it was the beginning of a new way to live — a new normal, if you will.

I believe that the change came about slowly but was also forced by the actions of a few men who had the power to initiate change for the better. One was the mine manager. His name was Bill Moore. He tried to hire from the local population. He also knew that most of the men coming to work for him from the surrounding area had little education. He must have believed that they were good workers and could be relied upon to get the job done.

And many did. Most ended up getting a trade. In the case of my father, he began working at the mine with a grade three education. Through his efforts to make life better for our family, he ended his mining career with four trade tickets. He also served on the local board of education. One of the first Indigenous people in the province to hold a seat on the local board of education. He also became a leader amongst his fellow workers during his time working at mining operations across Canada.

With his example, all of my older brothers started their careers at the mine, and all of them retired after many years of working in their chosen careers. I began work as a summer student at an iron mine near Atikokan, Ontario. Many families from my community followed a very similar path. Each successive generation exceeded the previous one in education, employment and career achievement. My community has a wide range of professionals, entrepreneurs, educators, and social scientists—all of whom are continuing the path to prosperity for the next generation.

We still have issues that challenge the present leadership of my community. But we also have seen considerable change in the social, financial and spiritual fabric of our community as we grow and strengthen our resolve to look after our future.

I believe that the catalyst for our members was working at the Renabie mine. I also believe that the mine manager started a community that was accepting of “Indians” to work shoulder to shoulder with non-natives in some challenging and, at times, dangerous situations. Our community members became essential to the well-being of their colleagues while underground or on the surface. When I talked to my father about his time at Renabie, he always said that it was such a change for him. After he started working at the mine, he finally felt that he was contributing to the well-being of his family for the first time. We never went hungry again after he took that job.

Why am I sharing this with you? As part of the National Day of Reconciliation, I believe that there are some parallels with what my community has gone through over the years. Unfulfilled promises from the federal and provincial governments after signing Treaty 9. The issues arising from the treatment of children attending residential schools and the long-standing emotional and psychological damage that was transferred through generations. The harm that many of my relatives did to themselves and others. The social and physical realities that my community had to deal with over half a century ago parallel where many Indigenous people find themselves today.  We have all heard about them.

What gives me hope is that there is an industry today that is fuelled by the desire to make a difference in the communities they work with. It took my community years to overcome our demons. But we did. I believe we were able to overcome and persevere because our men were accepted into a work and community environment that was both accepting and respectful. It showed those men that they could provide for their families and feel good about the work they did.

Today we look to our past, which shows us the reality of where we came from. I also believe today is a time to look to the future and decide where we can go and how as Indigenous people, we can succeed and prosper through meaningful dialogue and action with industry partners.

That is where all of you come in. Can you imagine how much can change for the communities that are living close to mining projects? What happened with my community back then wasn’t about the mine manager having a grand plan for inclusion. It just happened because he set about making the work environment and community life open and welcoming regardless of who was coming to work.

Can you imagine how much change can occur when communities and companies work together to facilitate change? I believe that is what has been happening throughout the mining industry, and more recently, we have been seeing greater participation by communities through partnerships, training, and direct and indirect work.

I always look forward to hearing about what one company or another is doing because it raises the bar for the rest of us. When one community prospers, we all prosper. When one company succeeds, we all succeed. 

Despite what the residential schools and the government of the day tried to do with our children, we are still here, more resilient and more determined. I also want to acknowledge how one person or one community can force change. I cannot imagine where my community or my family would be now if my father had stayed where he was, scratching out an existence from the land, hired out as a fishing and hunting guide. I am glad that he took us on this multi-generational journey of change, not who we are but how we live. 



Glenn Nolan is a past President of Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (2012-2014) and was the first Indigenous President in the organization’s history. He is a graduate of Sault College, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and has spent his career involved in the areas of resource development, Indigenous relations and government issues. Before becoming President of PDAC, Mr. Nolan served as Chief of the Missanabie Cree First Nation for three consecutive terms between 2001-2010. Currently, as a member of PDAC's Indigenous Affairs Committee, he continues his commitment to the creation of greater partnership development between communities and the mineral industry.


Looking to read further? You may also be interested in our Indigenous Affairs reports

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Economic Impacts of Exploration Projects on Indigenous Communities

Through a joint initiative, PDAC set out to explore the economic impacts of mineral development. Check out our Economic Impacts Report here. 

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Social Impact of Mineral Development Projects in Indigenous Communities

Following on from the Economic Impacts Report, PDAC also evaluated the social impacts of mineral development. Learn more about the results of our Social Impact Report here. 

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