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EDITORIAL: Not sold on residential schools holiday

['Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, greets Justice Murray Sinclair at the release of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on the history of Canada’s residential school system, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.']
['Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, greets Justice Murray Sinclair at the release of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada on the history of Canada’s residential school system, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015.']

Ambivalence was likely not the reaction the federal Liberals had hoped for in the wake of last week’s announcement of plans for a national statutory holiday to mark the shameful legacy of Indigenous residential schools in this country.

The idea had come from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — the 80th of 94 recommendations in its 2015 final report — after six gruelling years of emotionally charged hearings and testimonials.

The commission had called on Ottawa, “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.”

The recommendation’s intent was both commendable and necessary. Many more Canadians need to understand, really understand, the unconscionable injustice done to Indigenous families: The ripping of children away from their parents to be culturally assimilated; the physical, mental and sexual abuse that occurred.

But is a holiday, which not all Canadians may get, the best way to do that?

Some residential school survivors say they cringe at the idea of having an annual, high-profile reminder of their painful experiences. Yet other Indigenous people who welcome the concept say they worry many Canadians would treat such a holiday as just another day off.

Many Indigenous people interviewed by journalists said they hadn’t been consulted by Ottawa about a potential holiday. The federal Liberals promise to make no decisions without extensive Indigenous community consultation.

Meanwhile, an opposition MP with a private member’s bill to establish a national Indigenous holiday to mark the legacy of Canada’s residential schools — on June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day — says she’s nervous after the Liberals declared they’ll support her legislation. NDP MP Georgina Jolibois says she is worried the government will radically alter her bill.

Obviously, nothing should be decided without meaningful consultations with First Nations representatives. But it’s clear that reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous communities cannot hope to progress without a deeper understanding of the latter group’s painful experiences at the hands of the former. That means education must be central to a day of commemoration, whether a statutory holiday or not.

- Saltwire Network

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