A Dene MP is concerned the Liberal government will radically change her proposed bill to establish a national Indigenous holiday acknowledging the dark legacy of Canada’s residential school system.
On Wednesday, the Liberals announced they intend to support a private member’s bill introduced by NDP MP Georgina Jolibois that proposes setting a statutory holiday on June 21, which is National Indigenous Peoples Day.
The government has been consulting with Indigenous organizations about creating a holiday to honour survivors and raise awareness about the church-run, government-backed schools – one of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But Jolibois said she has yet to hear from the Liberals on her proposed bill.
“Quite frankly, I’m concerned that the Liberals will play politics with Indigenous history and culture,” said Jolibois in a press release. “Instead of discarding the work that’s already been done by Indigenous peoples, I urge the Liberals to work with us on this bill.”
One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Indigenous leaders still haven’t settled on whether the day should be a full-blown statutory holiday or a day of tribute that would offer some form of symbolic recognition.
The Liberals plan to move the behind-the-scenes discussion into a parliamentary forum, allowing Indigenous groups, leaders and residential school survivors to debate the idea with parliamentarians.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said First Nations support a national day to “recognize the tragic and painful legacy of residential schools” and respect and remember the “too many children taken from their homes and families,” while also honouring survivors and their families.
“The residential schools era is indeed a dark chapter, and we must never forget,” he said in a statement.
“A day dedicated to remembering and honouring the students of residential schools will help to increase public understanding of our shared history, and better inform our work together going forward. It is an important part of reconciliation and First Nations need to be involved in choosing an appropriate date.”
The government-funded, church-run residential schools operated for more than a century. Indigenous children were ripped away from their families, usually starting in late September, and sent to schools where they endured widespread sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
The previous Conservative government issued a formal apology in 2008.
If Parliament did approve a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday, it would only apply to federally regulated workplaces _ the civil service, marine ports, airports, airlines and telecommunications companies.
Provinces and territories would have to amend their existing labour codes to establish any additional day off.
– With files from The Canadian Press