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Friday, September 24, 2021

‘Sending the wrong message’: Indigenous Albertans react to province not recognizing Sept. 30 as stat holiday

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EDMONTON — The regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations Alberta Association is angered the province will not legislate the recently created federal National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday.

Ottawa has set aside Sept. 30 as the first national day to reflect on truth and reconciliation and the legacy of residential schools. The federal government passed legislation allowing federal employees and people working in federally regulated workplaces, like banks, the day off.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) put forward creating a statutory holiday to help public commemoration and awareness of the damaging and intergenerational effects the residential school system had and continues to have as one of its 94 calls to action.

Adrienne South, minister of Indigenous relations press secretary, said in a statement that the province is encouraging all Albertans to reflect on the legacy of residential schools and not just on one day, but it will not legislate the day as a holiday for all.

“The question on a work holiday is a decision for individual employers, unless an employee’s employment contract or collective bargaining agreement specifically grants federally-regulated holidays,” South said.

“We must not limit our acknowledgement to the legacy of residential schools to just one day,” she added.

All provincial government building flags will be lowered to mark the federally designated day.

South said that the province is working with First Nations and Metis communities in the province to establish a permanent memorial on the legislature grounds, adding it would create a lasting reminder of the tragic legacies of residential schools.

PROVINCE NEEDS TO ‘STEP UP’: REGIONAL CHIEF

Regional Chief Marlene Poitras said in a statement that “enough is enough.”

“There have been too many stories in recent days of this provincial government ignoring First Nations peoples and communities in the province,” she said. “Why won’t the government step up and acknowledge this day, which directly responds to the TRC calls to action?

“This refusal to formally acknowledge the Sept. 30th federal holiday within Alberta flies in the face of reconciliation with First Nations and shows a disdain and lack of care or respect for Alberta’s Indigenous population,” Poitras added.

Alberta had the most residential schools in the country.

Lyndsay Breadner, an Indigenous sacred firekeeper involved in the local harm-reduction community, told CTV News Edmonton she is not surprised the province will not be giving everyone the opportunity to observe the holiday.

“I’m not surprised at all,” she said. “Given the fact the UCP has always been a little bit insensitive.”

Breadner has been part of an effort to raise awareness and honour the children who never came home after attending residential schools, by a former school site along what is now Winterburn Road.

A large tipi has been set up and several ceremonies have and continue to take place.

“We are here to bring them home,” Breadner said. “To say their names.”

For Breadner, having a holiday is an important first step on the path to reconciliation as it gives people time away from work to reflect or attend ceremonies, like the one she has been part of for months.

Unlike Alberta, B.C. has set aside Sept. 30 as a stat holiday. Others are still deciding.

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees is filing grievances for workers who have been denied the statutory holiday.

“You feel like that your collective agreement isn’t being honoured,” said Bobby-Joe Borodey, a vice president with the union. “And you have to think about the day they’re not honouring. We consider it to be shameful.”

GOVERNMENT ‘SENDING THE WRONG MESSAGE’: INDIGENOUS HISTORY PROF

Crystal Fraser, an assistant history professor at the University of Alberta specializing in residential schools in Canada, echoed Breadner’s disappointment.

“If we can’t take one day out of 365, how is it we’re going to come together as Albertans, as Canadians, on an everyday basis,” Fraser said.

Fraser is Gwichyà Gwich’in and originally from Inuvik and Dachan Choo Gę̀hnjik in the Northwest Territories. Her grandmother and mother are residential school survivors.

The history professor said adding a holiday to a calendar says a lot about a nation’s priorities, like how Remembrance Day is recognized as a stat.

“This is sending the wrong message,” she said. “If Alberta were to recognize Sept. 30 as a statutory holiday where it could be a day of learning, practice, and reflection that might give the final people the push they need to sit down and educate themselves about what it is like to be Canadian in a country that is still so very colonial.

“To not say that Orange Shirt Day, now a federally recognized day on Sept. 30, is not important enough for Albertans to stop work, to have some quiet time, do some reflection is a big mistake,” Fraser added.  

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Touria Izri

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