The federal government is moving forward on a new statutory holiday to honour victims and survivors of Canada’s residential school system. However, whether Saskatchewan adopts the holiday is still unclear.
“We’ll have to have those discussions on whether or not we implement it as a full statutory holiday here in the province, what the cost to employers would be, understanding the government of Saskatchewan is also a large employer here in the province,” Premier Scott Moe told reporters on Wednesday.
Moe’s comments aren’t sitting well with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN). FSIN Vice-Chief David Pratt is critical of Moe’s comments, saying it was disappointing to hear, as Saskatchewan had one of the highest rates of Indigenous children in the residential school system.
“I don’t think the premier’s statement or comment was very helpful to reconciliation,” Pratt said.
Thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their homes and forbidden to practice their culture; many suffered sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.
“I think it’s important we honour and remember those people that have suffered within the system, and those children that didn’t make it home,” Pratt said. “Canada has to recognize its history, to recognize a large part of the residential schools were here in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and in the western provinces.”
Pratt told Global News that despite challenges, he’s hopeful the FSIN can build a relationship with the Moe government, after a “non-existent” relationship with the Wall government. He added he’d like to see more concrete action towards reconciliation from the provincial government.
But Moe said that even if Saskatchewan doesn’t observe the statutory holiday, it doesn’t indicate whether the province is or isn’t supportive of what the holiday represents.
“There’s actually four provinces that have not adopted Remembrance Day as a statutory holiday, Manitoba being one of those,” Moe said Wednesday. “I think it’s fair to say the people of Manitoba very much respect Remembrance Day and everything that it signifies.”
While a date hasn’t been set, the federal government plans to consult with First Nations groups to pick a day. The two dates being considered are: June 21, which is National Indigenous Peoples Day, and Sept. 30, which is Orange Shirt day, marking the dark past of the schools.
There is no timeline to indicate how long until the stat holiday will be in place, but all federal employees will receive a paid day off once it’s in place. Provinces in Canada have the ability to decide which federal statutory holidays are observed and extended to provincial employees.
As for what the FSIN hopes the holiday will consist of, Pratt is hoping for more education, further connectivity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and adding more monuments to recognize the history and experiences of Indigenous peoples across Canada; similar to the plaque recently unveiled in Regina to mark the site of the former Regina Indian Industrial School.
“I think that it’s important that history be acknowledged and we have those open honest discussions about them,” Pratt said.