'Stop giving lip service' and make National Day for Truth and Reconciliation provincial holiday: Sask. NDP MLA

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Betty Nippi-Albright, the NDP MLA for Saskatoon Centre, says Canadians will miss out if they don't get a chance to learn and reflect on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Betty Nippi-Albright, the NDP MLA for Saskatoon Centre, says Canadians will miss out if they don't get a chance to learn and reflect on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Residential school survivor and Opposition MLA Betty Nippi-Albright is calling on the Saskatchewan government to recognize Sept. 30, which is now recognized as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, as a provincial holiday.

Not everyone in the province will get a paid day off next week for the newly created holiday.

Federal employees will get paid time off for the day, as will City of Saskatoon and City of Regina workers. Employees at some organizations, such as the University of Saskatchewan, will also receive paid time off.

However, provincial employees in Saskatchewan who aren't federally regulated won't receive a paid day off.

Nippi-Albright, the NDP MLA for Saskatoon Centre, wants the provincial government to ensure that the day will be a day off for everyone.

"It is my hope that the province will walk its talk about reconciliation and stop giving lip service to reconciliation, and actually make this day a provincial holiday," she said.

Earlier this year, the federal government officially created the statutory holiday for Sept. 30 to honour the lost children and survivors of residential schools.

The national holiday was first proposed years ago, but passage of the bill to create the holiday was fast-tracked after the discovery of more than 200 unmarked graves at the former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

Following that, Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced it had found what are believed to be more than 700 unmarked graves at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School.

Nippi-Albright — who is the Opposition critic for First Nations and Métis relations, truth and reconciliation — says Canadians were woken up by the discovery of the graves. If they don't have a chance to learn and reflect on Sept. 30, they will be missing out, she said.

"They are not going to hear, they are not going to learn more about what actually happened to us — how many of our babies didn't come home in this province."

Nippi-Albright says she's not surprised that the day isn't already a provincial holiday, because systemic racism still lingers within the province.

There are many residential school survivors still alive in Saskatchewan and many of them were triggered after the discovery of the unmarked graves, she said.

"We've cried a lot. We are still going to keep crying because there's so much more that society doesn't know about, that Saskatchewan doesn't know about."

She said people need to hold the Saskatchewan Party government accountable.

In an emailed statement, the provincial government said it understands that the federal government created the statutory holiday in response to the call to action 80 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The report outlined 94 calls to action and calls on all levels of government to work together in advancing reconciliation.

The government said it accepts the calls to action put toward the province, and that while creating the statutory holiday in Saskatchewan wasn't included in them, it will continue to act on the other tasks in the commission's report.

The statement also said that flags will be lowered to half mast on Sept. 30 on all provincial government buildings and establishments. The government said Saskatchewan offers 10 statutory holidays, the most among provinces.

The province announced earlier this year that it will build a permanent monument to honour residential school survivors at Government House in Regina, but Nippi-Albright says monuments alone aren't enough.

Reconciliation needs to involve repairing the harm that's been done to Indigenous people, she said.

A legislative change would be required to make the day a provincial holiday for everyone, and Nippi-Albright said she is willing to work with the government to amend The Saskatchewan Employment Act to make it happen.

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