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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Holiday half measures

BY Will Nicholls Sep 12, 2021

The first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will be observed September 30. At the Nation we feel this is a small gesture by the federal government given that promised funds to search for unmarked graves at former residential schools never materialized.

It’s a familiar theme. Even though the Trudeau Liberals solemnly proclaim that redress for the residential school system is a priority, they have only enacted 13 of the 94 Calls to Action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 – coincidentally the same year Justin Trudeau was first elected prime minister. 

So, Orange Shirt Day is now a federal statutory holiday under a different name. By the way, this was one of the TRC Calls to Action – and certainly one of the easiest to implement. Given this year’s discoveries of unmarked graves at former residential schools it met with almost no opposition from federal opposition parties. 

However, two provinces have declared they will not recognize the day. So, in Alberta and New Brunswick, only federal employees will have a day off to contemplate one of the worst parts of Canada’s history. Other employers will not have to give their workers the day off unless they want to.

In New Brunswick, provincial services, including schools, will be open and working as usual September 30. Premier Blaine Higgs said New Brunswickers would participate by taking time to reflect on the legacy of residential schools. “Our government encourages everyone to use this day as an opportunity to consider what each of us can do as individuals to advance reconciliation and help to create a better, more inclusive province,” Higgs declared. The use of the word “individuals” shows the level of commitment his government has towards truth and reconciliation.

As well, schools in the province are encouraged to “participate in Orange Shirt Day and promote an understanding of the immense impact these schools continue to have on First Nations peoples.” We guess that one day out of the year to do this is a small start at least and we stress the least.

Some News Brunswick municipalities will observe the holiday, however. For example, St. George is closing all town offices and giving employees a paid day off. We commend St. George and its town council for its leadership.

Meanwhile, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government insists that unless a worker’s collective agreement grants federal holidays, no employer in the province needs to observe it.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees responded by filing grievances against several provincial agencies. As AUPE vice-president Bobby-Joe Borodey said, “It’s shameful.” 

According to Yellowhead Institute spokesperson Rob Houle, Alberta’s decision is no surprise. 

“This is par for the course in Alberta in that Indigenous people have largely been treated poorly by this province and by the western provinces,” Houle observed. He added that if the province couldn’t take even this small step forward “then there is really no hope for Indigenous people being able to expect to be treated any differently.” 

Half steps and half measures, at best. So much for national reconciliation.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.