National Aboriginal Day: should it be a stat holiday?

REGINA – Activities began Friday in the Queen City to celebrate National Aboriginal Day on June 21st.

“It’s a day set aside to celebrate the beauty of the aboriginal people, the accomplishments of the aboriginal people (and) the beauty of the culture,” said Ann Perry, Circle project executive director and organizer of events in Grassick Park.

Should it also be a statutory holiday? Some advocates say this is a good time to revisit the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendation for a national holiday to remember the tragedy of residential schools.

“A lot of them didn’t even celebrate their birthdays. Some of them didn’t even know when they’re birthdays were, so they never had a day growing up,” explained Trudy Stewart.

Stewart and her partner Janine Windolph are two Regina filmmakers and they were also statement gatherers for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). They listened to hundreds of testimonies from residential school survivors.

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“Sometimes a day can take us out of our busy schedules to remind us of the people who passed and also to honor our ancestors because we come from that legacy,” said Windolph.

Creating a stat holiday was one of 94 TRC recommendations. No one from the Aboriginal Affairs Ministry would speak on camera and the statement they provided Global News doesn’t directly address the issue. The full statement from Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office reads:

“Our Government recognizes that there have been dark chapters in Canada’s relationship with First Nations. While we cannot undo the past, we can learn from it and ensure that those dark chapters are not repeated.

As Prime Minister Harper said in his historic apology on behalf of all Canadians in 2008, there is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian Residential Schools system to ever prevail again.

We look forward to receiving the commissions’ full report to be able to fully understand these recommendations before determining next steps.”

“That actually sends the wrong message to First Nations people and other aboriginal people that their issues just don’t matter to this government. There needs to be a sense of urgency,” said Liberal MP Ralph Goodale.

Many of the recommendations will take time and money, but some First Nations people say making National Aboriginal Day a Canadian holiday would be a good first step.

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“It’s a sacred day. It’s the longest day of the year. It’s a turning point, so it’s probably the best time to start talking about it,” said Windolph.

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