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Alberta’s unions observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – September 30

EDMONTON – As Canada continues to grapple with its colonial past, the recognition of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a federal statutory holiday can be seen as an important breakthrough in raising awareness of Canada’s residential school system. However, more needs to be done to ensure that working people can properly honour the day, and we as labour activists must also reflect on what we can do – individually and collectively – to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation commemorates the 150,000+ Indigenous children who were removed from their homes and separated from their families to attend residential schools between the 1870s and 1998. Tragically, thousands of children never returned home, many were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused, and survivors continue to deal with the lingering psychological effects of the horrific residential school system.

A defining feature of the system was the concerted attempt, mainly by white Canadians of European descent, to strip Indigenous children of their cultures and freedoms, which had lasting impacts on the First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children who attended residential schools, as well as their families.

Following the closure of the last school 24 years ago, survivors called for recognition of and accountability for the intergenerational trauma caused by the residential school system. One of the outcomes of their efforts was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a multi-party body tasked with informing Canadians about the atrocities that occurred in residential schools. The commission concluded its mandate by issuing 94 calls to action to further reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and the creation of a national holiday commemorating residential school victims and survivors was one of their recommendations.

The Government of Canada finally acted on this proposal by officially recognizing September 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, as a federal statutory holiday last year. Alberta’s unions welcomed the decision, and as the day enters its second year, it is widely perceived as an integral component in educating Canadians about the shameful legacy of residential schools, and inspiring conversations about the treatment of Indigenous peoples.

At the same time, we must address the fact that millions of workers are not able to observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation the way it was meant to be honoured. Because the day has been acknowledged as a paid holiday at the federal level, and Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories are the only other jurisdictions that have followed the federal government’s lead, most working people in Canada are not able to commemorate the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a paid statutory holiday under the law. In the view of the AFL, this needs to change immediately.

To support healing and reconciliation with Indigenous communities, every Canadian province and territory should legally acknowledge the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a paid statutory holiday for all workers. And within the Alberta labour movement, we need to show solidarity with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples by embracing opportunities to learn about Indigenous history and cultures, while advocating for full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 recommendations.

One way we can educate ourselves is by participating in local events marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This year, events in Calgary and Edmonton will include efforts to remember the children lost to residential schools, film screenings highlighting Indigenous actors and movies, and a host of activities commemorating Orange Shirt Day – an annual event that honours residential school victims and survivors and encourages participants to commit to reconciliation.

Another action we can take is contacting our elected officials to demand movement on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action. The calls to action are 94 actions that governments, businesses, schools, and people living in Canada can pursue to help fix the mistakes of the past and present, so that Indigenous children and families can live happier and healthier lives.

Currently, only thirteen of the report’s recommendations have been completed. Nineteen proposals have not been addressed at all, 30 have proposals in progress, and action is being taken on 32 others but they are not completed. That means there is still a great deal of work to be done to advance reconciliation, but progress is only likely to happen if our elected leaders hear from us. For a template that can help you contact your local MP and MLA to demand action on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, visit the On Canada Project’s website.

Reconciling with Canada’s history of erasing Indigenous languages, cultures, and traditions is difficult and painful. But acknowledging the devastation caused by this legacy is critical to moving forward. As we observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, let’s commit ourselves to putting in the work needed to help heal deep wounds, and demand meaningful, concrete action for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

In solidarity,

Gil McGowan
President
Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)