OTTAWA — The federal government introduced a bill Tuesday to create a national holiday for truth and reconciliation that will honour First Nations, Inuit and Métis survivors, families, and communities impacted by residential schools.
Bill C-5, tabled by Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, continues the work of former NDP MP Georgina Jolibois. The former MP from La Loche, Sask. and the Clearwater River Dene Nation, introduced a private member’s bill in 2017 that sought to establish the holiday as a day of “reflection and celebration of Indigenous history and contributions to our collective society.”
The government’s new legislation proposes the new national statutory holiday be observed on Sept. 30 — coinciding with Orange Shirt Day.
“It’s like it’s been divinely guided,” Phyllis Webstad, organizer of the first Orange Shirt Day, told HuffPost Canada. The synchronicity feels like as though “the Creator is at play here and for whatever reason, my story has been chosen.”
Watch: Orange Shirt Day honours survivors of residential schools. Story continues below video:
Webstad, a residential school survivor, organized the first Orange Shirt Day in 2013 to reclaim and re-frame the grief and pain inflicted on generations of First Nations, Inuit and Métis families from a racist education system designed to erase their identities.
The name of the annual event is drawn from Webstad’s memory of her first day at St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C. in the ’70s, when the orange shirt she wore, a gift from her grandmother, was peeled off her back and taken from her after she arrived.
She was the third generation of her family to attend the school, known as The Mission.
The growing momentum behind the annual event has given her “little bit of justice” in her lifetime for what generations of her family have gone through, Webstad added.
“When I see someone wearing orange, or a button, taking the time to learn — what it means to me is that they care about what happened to us,” she said.
“I can leave this earth knowing that this injustice is in the open and it’s talked about and put on the table.”
Bill proposes to implement TRC call to action No. 80
The proposal for a “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation” was one of the 94 recommendations outlined in the TRC’s landmark 2015 report.
Jolibois’ private member’s bill did not pass the Senate in time before the upper chamber adjourned last year ahead of the election. Bills that do not pass before the dissolution of Parliament die on the order paper.
Guilbeault’s bill found support across the aisle with support from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, a second sponsor.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the new holiday will be one step forward in a healing process to right historical wrongs.
“The residential school system is a national tragedy borne by colonialism and propelled by systematic racism,” Miller said in a statement.
“Acknowledging this past and educating Canadians about the experiences of Indigenous children in these schools will ensure that this history is never forgotten.”
Webstad said that if the holiday comes to fruition, she hopes people will use the day off to volunteer with residential school and Orange Shirt Day-related events that advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.