A Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw leader is welcoming a potential statutory holiday marking the legacy of residential schools in Canada as a step forward in the relationship between Canada and First Nations.
Morley GooGoo, a regional chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador with the Assembly of First Nations, says that the holiday would allow Canada to recognize its past wrongs, rather than ignoring or hiding them.
“I think having this day is just a healing moment for everyone,” he said in an interview on Thursday.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez confirmed a report from the Globe and Mail that said the government is moving forward with plans to create a national statutory holiday to mark the legacy of residential schools.
Over roughly a century, thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families, forbidden to practice their culture, and subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse in the schools.
The decision itself is not new — the federal government implied it would do so when it accepted all the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in 2015.
However, the fact the government is now looking at how to do that is new.
GooGoo says this is a good step forward in implementing the recommendations found in the Truth Reconciliation Commission’s final report.
“The calls for action are not going to be done overnight, but generating these short-term gains are important,” he said.
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There’s still no timeline at this point for when a statutory holiday could actually be created but Rodriguez told reporters that the government is working to have discussions with Indigenous groups before coming to any decisions.
GooGoo says that the efforts to educate people on the history of residential schools in Canada’s education system can work, but that there are still issues with that method; citing incidents of experienced politicians making ignorant statements.
He appears to be referencing Sen. Lynn Beyak, who faced a string of controversies in 2017 for defending residential schools and had published more than 100 “letters of support” on her individual Senate website, with dozens containing language that First Nations advocates call racist or offensive.
“We have a diverse country and we have Indigenous people as first people here, then I do think it’s important we have a statutory holiday and that people know why it’s there,” GooGoo said.
He added that having a statutory holiday will make it easier to have reconciliation — as long as it’s adopted by all levels of government including the provinces.
“It’s important for all of us to write a new narrative of Indigenous relationships with the federal government, the provinces and with all Canadians,” he said.
GooGoo says he has talked to several members of his community including elders and says that the feedback on the proposed holiday has been good.
GooGoo says Canada can be better but that means that there is still work ahead.
“In order for us to be in a better place, we need to know where we came from; the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said.
“We need to take that day to honour the survivors who are resilient and also take the time to educate all Canadians so this type of thing never happens again.”
— With files from David Squires and Amanda Connolly