Indigenous leaders disappointed B.C. won't have a stat holiday to reflect on reconciliation this year

·3 min read
A memorial in Ottawa for the children whose remains were reportedly found at the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Reflecting on the legacy of residential schools will be a key part of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for many.  (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)
A memorial in Ottawa for the children whose remains were reportedly found at the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Reflecting on the legacy of residential schools will be a key part of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for many. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press - image credit)

Indigenous leaders and community members are urging the B.C. government to make Sept. 30 a statutory holiday, so more people can take time to reflect on the legacy of colonialism.

Many will be missing out on the chance to mark the day properly because they will be working, says Caroline Pollard, a Nisga'a survivor of the Sixties Scoop.

Pollard, 63, has worked in retail for the past three decades and has the option of taking a paid personal day, she says — but that's not an option for everyone.

"I believe the whole of Canada should be given that opportunity to take that day and learn more," she said.

Susana da Silva/CBC
Susana da Silva/CBC

One of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action from December 2015 called upon the federal government to establish a statutory holiday to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools.

Bill C-5 received royal assent on June 3, 2021, recognizing Sept. 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

It's a statutory holiday for employees in the federal government and federally regulated workplaces, but the provinces are taking different approaches toward how it's being observed.

B.C. has advised the provincial public sector and schools be closed on the day, but the province has yet to set it as a statutory holiday.

Shared history

While there's disappointment that the holiday hasn't been made statutory, some say this year can become a stepping stone toward that goal — and every call to action that is implemented or being worked on gives Indigenous communities hope for reconciliation.

"It's really important for Canadians to remember that we have this shared history that created all kinds of human suffering, and loss and harm," says Chief Robert Joseph of the Gwawaenuk First Nation.

Joseph was one of approximately 150,000 First Nations children who suffered years of abuse, isolation and trauma in residential schools.

He says Canada can never live up to its aspirations of becoming a fair and just society until it addresses this history — and Sept. 30 should serve as a yearly reminder of the commitment Canadians have made to reconciliation.

"No matter what day or date the statutory holiday falls, it will be the day when we can hold each other to account," Joseph said.

Reconciliation Canada
Reconciliation Canada

Need for non-Christian holidays

There's a greater need for statutory holidays that reflect the shared history of all Canadians, says Khelsilem, council chair for the Squamish Nation.

He cites Remembrance Day as an example of how such days can be unifying for the nation as a whole — and how the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation could have the same effect.

"I think a lot about the role that, for example, Remembrance Day, plays within our communities ... and how we, as a nation, come together to honour veterans," Khelsilem said.

"What's going to be important is that we use this [day] as one of the many tools that are available to create both a sense of healing in our country, but also a sense of identity," he added.

Thosh Collins
Thosh Collins

Many of Canada's current statutory holidays are problematic for Indigenous people, Pollard says.

That's because they're rooted in Christianity and a "product of colonization" because the government's priority in the past was assimilation, she explains.

In a statement to CBC News, B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin said the province aims to "formally recognize" the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in the future.

Rankin said the government is currently talking to Indigenous leaders, survivors and their families about how to do this respectfully.

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