National Truth and Reconciliation Day should be focused on education about residential schools, says Shaw Festival actor Julie Lumsden, a Métis who hails from Manitoba.
The day – today, Thursday, Sept. 30 – is reserved for remembering the victims of the residential school system in Canada. It falls on the same day as Orange Shirt Day, which also honours the victims of residential schools.
Lumsden said the importance of National Truth and Reconciliation Day lies in educating younger generations since the future is in their hands.
“Children in schools and young people are the future to healing. They are already so informed and knowledgeable about the truth of this country and where we’ve been,” she said.
“To think about tomorrow we have to know what we can do today and (National Truth and Reconciliation Day) is something we can do today that will make a better tomorrow.”
While the day is a statutory holiday for federal employees, the province of Ontario is not making it a formal holiday.
Lumsden says the country has been on a learning journey through COVID-19 and the discovery of children's graves on residential school properties.
“It’s at a point now where people can’t ignore or excuse away or remain ignorant about the truths of this country,” Lumsden said.
“To heal we have to acknowledge and this is a small step within that.”
Lumsden has starred in numerous productions across the province and is one of the Shaw’s most recognizable female leads.
And now she can add award winner to the list.
Lumsden was presented with the outstanding achievement in performing arts award at the Niagara region’s Celebration of Nations event in St. Catharines earlier in the month.
“It’s a huge honour,” Lumsden said in an interview.
“To be able to come into a new community, to be able to come into a place like Niagara, like the Shaw Festival and be welcomed is one thing, and then to also be acknowledged is hugely, hugely humbling.”
Lumsden was born and raised in Winnipeg. She graduated from the University of Winnipeg’s Desautel Faculty of Music. She studied classical music and got a degree in classical voice, meaning Lumsden has the vocal chops to back up her acting abilities.
She worked several shows in Winnipeg and Thunder Bay before getting a chance to audition at the Shaw Festival. Six months later, Lumsden received a call asking her to be a part of the festival's 2019 lineup and she has called the festival home ever since.
And Lumsden stays close to her work, living in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Old Town, and she said she couldn’t ask for a better community to call home.
“I’m being welcomed into this community with such open arms, which is how I have felt since the minute I got off the plane at Pearson and took my car to Niagara-on-the-Lake,” she said.
“I feel an immense amount of gratitude to the nominating committee and to Tim Johnson and everyone at Celebration of Nations. I just feel so grateful and really humbled and honoured.”
The Celebration of Nations is an annual gathering of Indigenous arts, culture and tradition that seeks to highlight members of the Indigenous community in Niagara’s achievements in their professional and cultural spheres.
Lumsden is a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation and has German and Scottish ancestry.
The Manitoba Métis Federation recently succeeded in a years long initiative of becoming the legally recognized democratically elected government of Métis in Manitoba.
As a Métis, Lumsden can authentically representing Métis and Indigenous stories through her acting, she said.
“I’ve had the immense honour of portraying Indigenous characters and specifically Métis characters. It’s a huge responsibility to be able to not only tell stories but to tell stories that are community-minded and based in your culture.” she said.
This becomes an opportunity for Lumsden to share Métis and Indigenous stories and to learn more about her identity.
“For me, that’s part of my learning journey of who I am and what it means to be a Métis woman, what it means to carry different nationalities within myself and different cultures within myself.”
The crossing of cultures is at the heart of Métis identity.
“That’s kind of the crux of being a Red River Métis. The amalgamation of First Nations and Scottish or First Nations and French or First Nations and English,” Lumsden said.
“The real centre of our culture is the amalgamation of two great cultures and respect within that for the strengths of either side.”