Truth and reconciliation: N.B. chiefs criticize decision not to recognize holiday

People placed children’s shoes on the front stairs of the New Brunswick legislature as a memorial for the 215 children found at the Kamloops Residential School as part of National Indigenous Peoples Day in Fredericton, N.B., on Monday June 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray

Chiefs representing the three largest First Nations in New Brunswick say they are profoundly disappointed with Premier Blaine Higgs’ decision not to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a provincial holiday.

The Indigenous leaders released an open letter to the premier Wednesday – the day before the first Truth and Reconciliation Day – pointing out that many of the province’s cities and towns will be honouring the victims of Canada’s residential school system.

The chiefs of Elsipogtog, Esgenoopetitj and Neqotkuk say they are dismayed that all provincial schools and other government institutions will remain open on Thursday.

Ross Perley, chief of the Neqotkuk First Nation, says Higgs’ decision represents a missed opportunity to repair damaged relations between Indigenous people and the provincial government.

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“We believe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is important to the Truth and Reconciliation process, and not recognizing it as a statutory holiday diminishes the importance of that process,” Perley said in a statement.

The provincial government did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the chiefs are also demanding the province conduct an investigation into New Brunswick’s day schools for Indigenous children.

“As a people, we need healing and forward thinking,” Alvery Paul, chief of the Esgenoopetitj First Nation, said in statement.

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick cities and towns observing truth and reconciliation day on their own'
New Brunswick cities and towns observing truth and reconciliation day on their own

“Day schools in the province … shared the same mission as residential schools – assimilating Indigenous children into colonial culture.”

The federal government this year declared Sept. 30 an annual statutory holiday. It automatically applies to those who work for the federal government or federally regulated agencies and businesses.

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Ottawa has left it up to provinces to decide if a statutory holiday applies at the provincial level.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2021.

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