National Aboriginal Day should be a stat holiday: Kabatay

Since 1996, Canada has marked June 21 as National Aboriginal Day. To make it really count, it should be a day off nationwide, says Jasmine Kabatay.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended a new national statutory holiday to commemorate residential school survivors.

The Canadian Press

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended a new national statutory holiday to commemorate residential school survivors.

National Aboriginal Day is a day to celebrate Indigenous peoples, culture, and history. Unfortunately for many Canadians, they’ll be too busy working to appreciate the occasion.

The federal government declared June 21 National Aboriginal Day after consultations with First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people. It falls on the summer solstice, a day of cultural significance for many Aboriginal peoples.

But for most of the country, it's not a day off.

Last week, NDP MP Georgina Jolibois of Saskatchewan tabled a private member’s bill to make June 21 a statutory holiday, in line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to create one for a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Why not make National Aboriginal Day that new stat? Shouldn’t this day, dedicated to Indigenous peoples, be used to educate Canadians about our history, culture, and heritage? Shouldn’t this day be used to honour survivors of a great wrong in Canadian history?

Shouldn’t this day be used to educate Canadians about what is still going on in Indigenous communities?

Some have taken the matter into their own hands. The Northwest Territories have taken National Aboriginal Day off since 2001. The Yukon officially declared it a stat starting this year.

In my hometown near Fort Frances, Ont. — and I’m sure in other places across the nation — some businesses close down for the day so people can celebrate, and parents take their children out of school for festivities, such as powwows or traditional teachings.  It’s almost certain an Indigenous-owned business will be closed for the day.

Some will argue, “Aboriginal Day already exists, why make it a stat?”

Look at some of the occasions Canada already marks with a day off: Victoria Day, Canada Day, Christmas, Good Friday and Thanksgiving. All of them based in a Christian, colonial past. A statutory holiday for Aboriginal Day would mean so much more.

It would give Canadians a chance to participate in events and teachings without having to worry about repercussions from work, especially if they truly do want to learn about Canada’s first peoples.

In the aftermath of the TRC report, and with promises made from the Liberal government, more should be done for true healing. Teaching the history of Indigenous peoples, and non-indigenous peoples participating and learning, is vital for reconciliation.

We have to remember the past and Canadians have to take on the full responsibility for the injustices and inequalities Indigenous peoples have faced and continue to face today. We can’t change what happened but we do have a say going forward, and doing this is one of many first steps.

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