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A new holiday to recognize the dark legacy of residential schools

Residential School students and staff, Regina, Saskatchewan, 1908. Photo: John Woodruff/BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives/Flickr

Following through on a recommendation from the Truth and Reconciliation process, the federal government wants to create a national day of recognition to mark the legacy of the residential school system.

Created both to mark the dark history of the residential school system and to honour the students who were forced to attend such schools, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is consulting with First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities on how to best acknowledge the dark chapter in Canadian history, where tens of thousands of Indigenous children were removed from their home communities and placed into government and church institutions to essentially "kill the Indian" in the child.

The schools were one example of our colonial legacy where Indigenous children were indoctrinated into the languages and religions of settler society.

Instead of purposefully forgetting that this genocidal atrocity occurred in our polite Canadian society, the federal holiday will help illuminate our past actions, honour those who had to endure the process, and hopefully prevent it from ever occurring again -- one of the major purposes of the Truth and Reconciliation process.

Ninety-four calls to action came out of the seven-year process of documenting the historical, social and spiritual impact of the residential school on Indigenous communities across Canada.

Call number 80 was for a new statutory holiday to be known as the "National Day for Truth and Reconciliation" to honour the survivors and their families and to ensure a "public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools."

This way, Canada cannot forget its own dark history and can properly honour those who went through the residential school system, whether they survived the settler indoctrination or not.

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde, said his organization has been pushing for a national holiday to remember residential schools since 2010, and firmly stated more than once that First Nations need to be involved in choosing an appropriate date.

Some possibilities include June 21, which is already celebrated as National Indigenous Peoples Day, and September 30, which is marked as "Orange Shirt Day" as part of a residential schools awareness campaign started in British Columbia.

The federal government declaring a national holiday would be like November 11, with the holiday only applying to those working in federal jurisdictions, such as the federal public service and banking. It would be up to each province and territory to determine whether a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation would be a day off for most other workers.

Of course, this new federal holiday needs to be seen as more than just another day off. Provincial and federal governments need to focus their message for the day to ensure people understand the importance of the Truth and Reconciliation process and reflect on the past and future of Indigenous communities across Canada.

Looking to the past to provide a better future for Indigenous communities would mean tackling the problem of disappearing and murdered Indigenous women or a focus on the disproportionate number of Indigenous people currently in our prison system.

Photo: John Woodruff/BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives/Flickr

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