Home News Sept. 30 is now a federal holiday

Sept. 30 is now a federal holiday

by Fern Clair September 28, 2021
Sept. 30 is now a federal holiday

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a one to remember and honour the children and survivors of residential schools

Every year on Sept. 30, people across Canada participate in Orange Shirt Day to honour residential school survivors and spread awareness of the tragedy. However, this year will be the first time Sept. 30 is a federal holiday, despite the fact that many provinces are choosing not to recognize it as a statutory holiday.

The new statutory holiday is called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — the outcome of legislation passed by the Canadian government in June, and is the result of one of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“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,” states the commission.

“I don’t think we should be calling them residential schools anymore,” said Catherine Kinewesquao Richardson, who is Métis with Cree, Dene, and Gwich’in ancestry. She is the director of First Peoples studies at Concordia.

“Residential school is a euphemism, they want it to sound better,” she said. “It makes them feel a bit more protected if you call it a school rather than a prison camp. But if we are going to use the truth part in truth and reconciliation, then I think it’s time to call residential schools what they are, which is a prison camp.”

For Richardson, the Sept. 30 holiday, while a product of the 94 calls to action, was a direct result of the recent discovery of hundreds of bodies at residential schools across Canada.

In May, the remains of 215 children were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in BC. As of August, according to The Guardian, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been identified at five residential schools across Canada, but it’s estimated to rise to over 3,200. With 139 residential schools recognized by the federal government, and many more privately funded, that number is expected to increase by the thousands.

Many Indigenous people on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok have posted that, including the bodies found at American residential schools, the number of children’s bodies is over 6,500. However, that number is not considered official.

“While I’ve heard some reports about the child’s graves, it’s kind of sporadic every time something new happens,” said Richardson, who explained she doesn’t see the media reporting on the issue enough.

The holiday on Sept. 30 is not being recognized by many provinces, including Quebec. According to CTV news, Premier François Legault stated at a press conference that Quebec isn’t interested in having more statutory holidays, no matter the reason.

Concordia follows provincial statutory holidays, not federal ones, stated Vannina Maestracci, a spokesperson for Concordia.

“However, we have been marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for some years through events organized and led by Concordia’s Indigenous staff and faculty,” said Maestracci.

She stated that since Sept. 30 is designed to promote awareness, Concordia, as it does every year, encourages students to wear an orange shirt in honour of the Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools.

Sept. 30 is commonly referred to as Orange Shirt Day, where people wear orange shirts to create a dialogue about residential schools, and to honour the survivors. The reason why people wear the colour orange is because of survivor Phyllis Webstad. When she went to her first day at a residential school wearing an orange shirt bought by her grandmother, it was taken away from Webstad, who was six at the time.

Maestracci also explained that this year the Indigenous Directions Office is holding a round table discussion on residential schools, and a story will be published by Manon Tremblay — who is nêhiyaw-iskwêw (Plains Cree) from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and the senior director of Indigenous Directions — about her grandmother, who was forcibly sent to residential school.

“I would tell you to take the time to reflect and take the time to educate oneself on that part of Canadian history,” said Tremblay when asked if she had advice for what people could do to show support on Sept. 30. “Reflect on or educate oneself on the intergenerational trauma that still persists today.”

For Tremblay, it is important to remember that while there are Indigenous people who didn’t go to residential school, their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did, and that trauma is carried through the generations.

“That continues to influence who they are today because of the way that they were brought up, and some of the apprehensions that their parents and grandparents communicated to them,” said Tremblay. “And this is the sort of thing that we are still experiencing today.”

Tremblay explained that Concordia is doing a Indigenous Directions Action Plan in response to the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The action plan was created in 2019, and aims to decolonize and Indigenize Concordia so that it can move forward based on responsibility, reciprocity, relevance and respect.

She also stated that the fact that Concordia is staying open for Sept. 30 is an opportunity to bring awareness to people on campus. If they were sent home, they would not think about the day and what it means. But if students are on campus, they have a chance to engage with the Indigenous community and have an honest discussion.

 

Juliet Mackie is a Métis (Cree/Gwich’in/English) Graduate Student, painter, and beadwork artist with maternal roots in Red River, MB and Fort Chipewyan, AB. Juliet’s great-grandmother Evelyn Wylie attended an Anglican day school as a child in Fort Chipewyan. Evelyn married a Swedish trapper, Alvar Oak, and raised their three daughters seasonally on a trapline at Hill Island Lake, NWT. Alvar established a small trappers school for his daughters and the children of the other trappers to protect them from being taken by the Indian Agent. In 1944, Evelyn moved with her daughters from Lake Athabasca to Edmonton where they attended a local school. They faced discrimination in Edmonton and were often referred to “halfbreeds.” Like many Métis families, they hid their identity to protect themselves from violence and racism. In her art practice, Juliet uses portraiture and beadwork to reclaim her Métis identity and celebrate Indigeneity. Her painting famii/family depicts Juliet and her brother as children. 

 

Painting by Juliet Mackie

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