This Thursday, September 30, 2021, is the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Here’s what you need to know about this occasion:
It is a federal statutory holiday
Bill C-5, which proposed the creation of a statutory holiday to commemorate the tragic legacy of residential schools in Canada, received Royal Assent on June 2021. Shortly after, September 30th was announced officially as a federal statutory holiday to be celebrated every year.
Federal statutory holidays are public holidays recognized by the government or province. Depending on one’s eligibility and employer, workers are entitled to a day-off with pay. This also means that schools, Crown corporations, and non-essential government agencies will be closed for the day.
What’s it for?
The objective of the holiday is “to create a chance for Canadians to learn about and reflect on a dark chapter in their country’s history and to commemorate the survivors, their families and their communities, as called for by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Indigenous leaders” (Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault). It is estimated that 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children were forced to attend residential schools between the 1870s and 1997.
What should you do to participate? As a newcomer to Canada, it’s a great opportunity to learn about Indigenous history to understand the current plight of Indigenous Peoples of this country. You can start with 16 resources to help settlers understand and advance Indigenous reconciliation by Lindsay Purchase (posted on Charity Village, originally published on CareerWise) or Winnipeg Public Library’s reading list (and other resources). Another great resource is Beyond 94 by CBC. It monitors the progress of the journey that governments, communities, and faith groups are taking towards reconciliation.
It is part of the 94 Calls to Action
National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a fulfillment of Call to Action 80 which says:
“We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.”
The 94 Calls to Action is one of the main results of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was convened to document the experience of survivors and witnesses of residential schools all over Canada. The Calls to Action was published to directly address the ongoing impact of residential schools on survivors and their families, and provide a path for reconciliation for the government and Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in the country.
It is also Orange Shirt Day
Many were already celebrating September 30th as “Orange Shirt Day” even before Bill C-5 was passed. This occasion was launched to “open the door to global conversation on all aspects of Residential Schools” (Orange Shirt Day. org). This date was chosen because September 30th is the day when Indigenous children were taken away to residential school.
The name of the event is based on Phyllis Webstad’s experience on her first day at residential school. She was six years old when she started school in British Columbia. She recalls that upon arriving at St. Joseph’s Mission, all her clothes were taken away including a new orange shirt that was given to her by her grandmother (watch Phyllis relate the story in the video below). This heartbreaking story highlights how Indigenous children were stripped away of their culture, rights, and self-esteem. This is why the event promotes the slogan “Every child matters.”
Not all provinces will celebrate it as a statutory holiday
Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, and New Brunswick will recognize it as a day of remembrance but not as a statutory holiday. This means that employers in these provinces are not obligated to give the day off. However, public service employees in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta will be observing a day of remembrance similar to Remembrance Day and Easter Monday. In Quebec, only financial institutions will be closed. But for New Brunswick, September 30th will be business as usual.
In Manitoba, schools and non-essential government services and offices will be closed. Flags on all government buildings will also be lowered to half-mast. The City of Winnipeg, which has the largest Indigenous population of any major city in Canada, will be funding special programs that educate and raise awareness about the history and impacts of the residential school system. As part of these efforts, admission to the Manitoba Museum will be free from September 30 to October 3 to attract more people to their special exhibits and programs commemorating this occasion.
How will you celebrate Truth and Reconciliation Day?
Sources: Federal Statutory holiday: National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Government of Canada; National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, Government of Canada; The Story of Orange Shirt Day, Orange Shirt Day.org; Winnipeg EPC votes to recognize National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, Sam Thompson, Global News; and National day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada 2021, Office Holidays. Accessed September 23, 2021.
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