Indigenous leaders frustrated by provincial holiday for Queen's funeral

Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation) Chief Ross Perley in a file photo from 2020. He said there are thousands of Indigenous people who deserve to be mourned, too.  (Logan Perley/CBC - image credit)
Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation) Chief Ross Perley in a file photo from 2020. He said there are thousands of Indigenous people who deserve to be mourned, too. (Logan Perley/CBC - image credit)

Indigenous leaders in New Brunswick are criticizing the province's decision to hold a holiday for Queen Elizabeth's funeral while Truth and Reconciliation day hasn't received the same treatment.

On Sept. 19, schools and government offices will be closed for a national day of mourning, although the holiday is optional for the private sector.

Chief Ross Perley of Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation) said there are many Indigenous people who deserve mourning.

"When it comes to honouring, you know, the deceased, you know, for us, thousands of Indigenous children were murdered. And thousands of residential school survivors are still alive," Perley said. "And we can't have a day here in New Brunswick, a holiday here in New Brunswick, to honour and reflect and remember them."

WATCH | New Brunswick declares holiday for Queen's funeral but not for Truth and Reconciliation Day

Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of Sitansisk (St. Mary's First Nation) said he holds no ill feelings toward New Brunswickers who want to mourn the loss of Queen Elizabeth.

"We can respect the loss of a leader, as is expected when engaged in a nation-to-nation relationship," Polchies said. "However, it sends an odd message about the priorities of the provincial government here in New Brunswick, in deciding to hold a day of mourning to a figurehead of colonialism, but not for the countless children who were taken away from their homes and never returned to their families."

St. Mary's administrative office will remain open and operational on Sept. 19, but will be closed on Sept. 30 for Truth and Reconciliation Day.

"We don't follow colonialism," Polchies said.

Perley said his community will also not observe the Sept. 19 holiday.

CBC News requested a statement from the provincial government regarding these concerns, but did not receive one in time for publication.

Community used to disappointment 

In June, the province passed a motion to recognize Truth and Reconciliation Day, but it did not include mention that New Brunswickers live on unceded and unsurrendered Wolastoqey territory, which both Polchies and Perley criticized.

Perley said because of the way they've been treated in the past, the Indigenous community isn't surprised by the holiday for the Queen.

"We kind of expected these types of decisions and there – it just goes to show the racial bias that the provincial government has against Indigenous peoples," he said.

He said much of his community isn't fond of the monarchy.

"We send condolences, and respect anybody who passes, but [the monarchy] have had an obligation to advocate for Indigenous peoples in Canada, and haven't really done much over the decades," Perley said.

"So I think it's safe to say that there's no love lost."

Frustration gaining support online

St. Mary's First Nation shared its frustration about the holiday in a statement over Twitter on Sept. 13. It has since been retweeted over 250 times and received nearly 800 likes.

One of the people who showed support for the statement was Susan Holt, the leader of the New Brunswick Liberal Party.

"100 per cent this," she said when sharing the statement on her profile.

Polchies was glad to see Holt's support. He said he welcomes allies like Holt, whose principles align with Truth and Reconciliation.

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

But he doesn't see allies in the current provincial government.

"Unfortunately, [to] our leadership at the New Brunswick provincial level, it's not so much of a priority, which is very disappointing."

Despite the fact that he expects these kinds of decisions, Perley said Indigenous people won't stop fighting.

"We'll continue our calls for the province to make Sept. 30 a provincial holiday, and hopefully, it sinks in," he said. "That way our elders and the children that were murdered can get the recognition that they deserve."