National Day for Truth and Reconciliation gains greater profile, support

NEW BRUNSWICK – More people are recognizing the importance of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation beyond First Nations communities.

It comes as the federal government passed legislation earlier this year creating a federal statutory holiday called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, as well as action taken earlier this month by the Nova Scotia government.

The action is seen as an opportunity for Canadians to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is not getting the same attention in New Brunswick, however.

It was reported earlier this month the province will not recognize Truth and Reconciliation Day as a statutory holiday, while some municipalities have indicated they will. They include the cities of Moncton, Miramichi, Fredericton and Saint John.

The New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council has expressed disappointment with the province’s decision, however did not reply to a request for comment by deadline.

A statement release by Premier Blaine Higgs on the GNB website read, “We are committed to identifying ways to acknowledge Sept. 30 as a day of recognition.

“While September 30th will be observed in New Brunswick, it will not be a statutory holiday.”

“For many years, Sept. 30 was known to be Orange Shirt Day and has been an important day in First Nations communities and schools,” said Chief Alan Polchies of St. Mary’s First Nation in a statement posted to the Wolastoqey Nation of New Brunswick Facebook page.

“It is a day in which we remember those of our community members who were taken from us while they were children and brought to Indian Residential Schools who never made it home and honour the survivors who did.”

“Though we are disappointed that the provincial government has decided not to officially adopt this statutory holiday, we cannot express the amount of gratitude to those who have chosen to observe this day within their own communities, businesses, organizations or municipalities,” said Chief Patricia Bernard in the same statement.

Nova Scotia will recognize Sept. 30 each year as Truth and Reconciliation Day beginning this week.

Provincial government offices, public schools and regulated child care will be closed, while businesses will have the option to remain open.

“We are taking this step to recognize the importance of honouring First Nations, Inuit and Métis residential school survivors and their families and communities,” Premier Tim Houston said in a press release. “We encourage all Nova Scotians, whether you are working or in school, to make time on Sept. 30 for important discussions about Canada’s history of residential schools.”

It was stressed in the release how the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will acknowledge the legacy of residential schools and the role it plays in the reconciliation journey.

The Provincial Court of Nova Scotia later made a similar announcement that it will not sit on Sept. 30. Courthouses across Nova Scotia will be closed annually on that day.

Federal action began on Sept. 29, 2020, when Heritage minister Steven Guilbeault announced a bill to establish the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The decision followed the $7 million over two years contained in the 2019 budget for communities across the country to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools.

Chief Andrea Paul of the Pictou Landing First Nation (PLFN) said she appreciates the growing recognition related to truth and reconciliation.

“Our community has always recognized this day,” she said. “To have it nationally recognized is a bit overwhelming. The response has been so positive and heartfelt, how people, organizations and businesses want to be a part of this day.”

She said her 10 years as chief of PLFN has allowed her to achieve a national and international perspective, including the opportunity she had to participate in a United Nations First Nations event in Switzerland.

She said young Indigenous people inspire her with their involvement in truth and reconciliation issues.

“It’s really empowering to see young people so engaged,” she said. “They hold their leadership accountable.”

Reporter Steve Goodwin spent decades with Advocate Media at our sister publication The Pictou Advocate in Pictou, N.S.