For the first time, Sept. 30 will mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
In June, Ottawa declared it a federal statutory holiday that is meant to give public servants an opportunity to recognize the legacy of residential schools.
The designated paid holiday for federal employees also addresses one of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: “We call upon the federal government, 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.”
Saskatchewan has not declared it a provincial holiday. However, it does fall on the same day as provincially-proclaimed Orange Shirt Day — a day on which people honour residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad, who had her orange shirt taken away on the first day of school.
“We continue to proclaim Sept. 30 as Orange Shirt Day and recognize it as an important day of remembrance for those who have suffered harm and to honour those lives that were lost at residential schools,” said a Government of Saskatchewan spokesperson.
Employees still have to work that day, but all provincial government buildings will lower flags to half-mast.
Similarly, in Saskatchewan schools, staff and students will be in the classroom on Sept. 30.
As they do every year, school divisions in Regina and Saskatoon are planning Orange Shirt Day activities to reflect on the multigenerational impacts of residential schools.
“For Regina Public Schools, it is a day which specifically honours residential school survivor Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, and is an opportunity to build on learnings about residential schools, reconciliation, Indigenous ways of learning, land based education and treaties, including Treaty 4 on which the school division exists,” said Regina Public Schools spokesperson Terry Lazarou.
In alignment with the U of R’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, a university spokesperson said all campuses will be closed Sept. 30 to observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Classes will resume Oct. 1.
“Members of our University community are also encouraged to attend other events and ceremonies marking National Truth and Reconciliation Day, and to take the time to reflect on our individual roles and responsibilities in travelling the path towards reconciliation,” the U of R spokesperson said.
In a campus-wide email, USask provost and vice-president academic Dr. Airini confirmed the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will be an official university holiday, which gives all faculty, staff and students the day off.
“We hope our campus community can use the time to learn, reflect and contemplate how we can do our part to eliminate structural and overt racism and other forms of discrimination on our campus, in our communities and across the country,” Dr. Airini said.
“The world needs a university where Indigenous concepts, methodologies, pedagogies, languages, and philosophies are respectfully woven into the tapestry of learning, research, scholarship, creativity, and community engagement.”
Planning for the statutory holiday closure and Orange Shirt Day programming is underway at both USask and the U of R.
In Saskatoon, city administration is currently reviewing the various collective agreements in place to determine the impact of the newly declared federal holiday, according to city manager Jeff Jorgenson.
“At this time, our focus is on recognizing the day with appropriate acknowledgement. The City of Saskatoon supports efforts to elevate the significance of September 30th and to reflect on the legacy and impacts of the Indian Residential School System,” Jorgenson said.
On Aug. 30, Saskatoon city council voted to make Sept. 30 a paid statutory holiday for all city employees.
The City of Regina declined an interview at this time, but said it will have more information on its plans for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in the coming days.