Editorial – Truth and Reconciliation

Earlier this year, the federal government passed bill C-5 which designated September 30 as a national day of Truth and Reconciliation. This new federal holiday is one of the 94 calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in its final report on the Indian Residential Schools system. The statutory holiday applies to federal government employees, and to the federally-regulated private sector.

The new holiday is in response to TRC Call to Action 80. This called on the government to establish the holiday “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.”

Outside of the federal government setting, there is a hodgepodge adoption of the holiday at lower levels of government. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario called on the Ontario government to make the day a provincial holiday. The provincial government has said it will not. Locally, South Dundas supported AMO’s stance. South Stormont council went one step further and voted to observe the federal holiday beginning this year. There are two issues with implementing this new and appropriate holiday.

First is the uneven adoption of the holiday. Premier Doug Ford said in June that his “heart aches for Indigenous communities” as news reports of more unmarked graves of children were discovered at former residential school locations. He pledged government funding towards locating further unmarked graves at all former residential school locations in Ontario. But a holiday to commemorate the horrors of Canada’s 160 year legacy of residential schools is out of the question? You cannot have partial reconciliation, or half-measures.

More difficult is the task of ensuring that the holiday is used for its intended purpose, and publicly commemorate this legacy. Indigenous education continues to be integrated into Ontario’s school curriculum to the benefit of all students. That does not help inform the adults who may not know, or begin to understand this part of Canada’s history. Unlike Remembrance Day ceremonies, there are no cenotaphs or similar monuments to commemorate these losses. This is the missing piece. TRC Calls to Action 81 and 82 call monuments to honour the survivors of the Indian Residential School System in Ottawa, and all provincial/territorial capitals. That, along with local ceremonies would be appropriate for commemoration, and education.

It should not be up to local governments to step up to the plate when the provincial government will not. The Ontario government should adopt September 30 as a provincial holiday, and begin public and meaningful commemoration of this legacy. In all cases, our actions should be respectful of the spirit of reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

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