While the government of Alberta “encourages all Albertans to reflect on the legacy of residential schools” on Sept. 30, it’s leaving the implementation of a statutory holiday up to individual employers for provincially-regulated industries.
In June, Ottawa declared Sept. 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — 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.
“For provincially-regulated industries, the question on a work holiday is a decision for individual employers, unless an employee’s employment contract or collective bargaining agreement specifically grants federally-regulated holidays,” explained Adrienne South, press secretary for Alberta’s ministry of Indigenous Relations.
The province encourages reflection, and will lower flags on Alberta government buildings on Sept. 30 “to honour lives lost at residential schools, and commemoration ceremonies will take place.”
“We must not limit our acknowledgement to the legacy of residential schools to just one day. Alberta’s government will work with First Nations and Métis communities in establishing a permanent memorial on the Alberta legislature grounds for the victims of the residential school system,” South said.
She added the province is “committed to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s provincial calls to action, including helping Indigenous Albertans reclaim their traditional Indigenous names.”
However, the Assembly of First Nations Alberta Association said it’s upset the provincial government is not considering legislation to widely observe Sept. 30 as a statutory holiday.
“There have been too many stories in recent days of this provincial government ignoring First Nations peoples and communities in the province as of late, enough is enough,” Regional Chief Marlene Poitras said in a news release Friday.
“Why won’t the government step up and acknowledge this day, which directly responds to the TRC calls to action to bring more awareness to the struggles Canada’s First Peoples have gone through in dealing with colonization?
“This refusal to formally acknowledge the Sept. 30 federal holiday within Alberta flies in the face of reconciliation with First Nations and shows a disdain and lack of care or respect for Alberta’s Indigenous population.”
Poitras also pointed to concerns raised by an Alberta First Nation about not having adequate access to the referendum questions and senate vote being included in many Oct. 19 municipal elections.
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“I have also been told that the government is not taking any steps to ensure that First Nations can participate effectively in referendum items during upcoming municipal elections in regards to Daylight Saving and the equalization formula.
“While $10 million is being funneled into municipalities to support ease of voting on these items, no booths are being set up on the Nations, who are not municipalities and do not follow the same electoral rotation as other communities.
“Instead, we are told: ‘drive to the nearest community.’ For some nations in Alberta, this is an over 100-kilometre trek in one direction. For others, they are fly-in communities and are left without any options to participate in the democratic process.”
Poitras says this sends a message to First Nations peoples that their voices don’t matter.
“I call upon the government of Alberta to course correct these actions immediately, set up polling stations on referendum items on reserve and also to acknowledge the Sept. 30, 2021 National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.”
Elections Alberta and the ministry of Municipal Affairs confirmed Thursday some people will have to travel to a nearby municipality or vote by mail to participate.
“Not every community hosts an election this fall; summer villages, improvement districts, special areas, First Nations, and the Alberta side of the City of Lloydminster do not have municipal elections this October,” Minister of Municipal Affairs spokesperson Mark Jacka told Global News.
“To ensure easily accessible voting information as well as easy access to voting opportunities, partnering communities will provide First Nations residents with election notification and the information required to cast their ballots.”
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) said Aug. 25 it was filing formal policy grievances against employers, including Alberta Health Services (AHS), that are refusing to acknowledge the newly created National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The union said some employers “are not honouring the new holiday” despite “collective agreements which compel the employers to acknowledge holidays created by the federal government.”
However, a spokesperson for AHS told Global News the health agency “may or may not be obligated to recognize a new federally-regulated holiday as part of signed collective bargaining agreements with unionized employees.”
The issue is being reviewed, said Kerry Williamson.
“AHS has been working with stakeholders, including the Wisdom Council, on how to best recognize the day in a meaningful way and planning is underway.
“AHS has been recognizing Sept. 30, Orange Shirt Day, for many years,” Williamson said.
Meanwhile, Saskatchewan has not declared Sept. 30 a provincial holiday but it falls 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.