Six Nations elected chief wants National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to be Ontario holiday

The elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River sent a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford asking that National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to be a provincial holiday.

Chief Mark Hill wants National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to be a statutory holiday in Ontario

Mark Hill, the elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River, says Ontario should recognize Sept. 30 as a provincial holiday. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

The elected chief of Six Nations of the Grand River sent a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford asking that the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation be a provincial holiday.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also known as Orange Shirt Day, is on Sept. 30. It's a day to recognize and reflect on the legacy of residential schools in Canada.

In June, Ottawa passed legislation to recognize Sept. 30 as a federal statutory holiday, making it a paid day off for federal employees and staff in federally regulated workplaces.

This was among the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — meant to honour Canada's residential school survivors, their families and communities and to publicly commemorate the history and ongoing legacy of the schools.

Chief disappointed Ontario not making Sept. 30 holiday

But Curtis Lindsay, press secretary for Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford, confirmed in an email to CBC Toronto on Sept. 9 that the day will not be a holiday for Ontario.

"Ontario is working in collaboration with Indigenous partners, survivors and affected families to ensure the respectful commemoration of this day within the province, similar to Remembrance Day," Lindsay wrote.

"While the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is not a provincial public holiday this year, employers and employees may agree to treat this day as such, and some may be required to do so if it has been negotiated into collective agreements or employment contracts."

Six Nations elected chief Mark Hill's letter to Ford states he was "disappointed" by this decision.

"While you and many other provincial officials have expressed your commitment to strengthening relationships with First Nations communities, this upcoming statutory holiday is an important symbol indicating a commitment to practical action," read his letter dated Sept. 16.

"This year has been difficult on everyone, but particularly so for the Indigenous communities whose old wounds were reopened upon the discovery of their lost children's remains ... It is not enough that leaders give a few remarks on occasion, only to let pass more formal opportunities to officially acknowledge where we've come from and where we need to go."

In the meantime, Six Nations is recognizing it as a statutory holiday. All council employees will be given the day off and are encouraged to wear orange the week of Sept. 27, according to a news release.

Hill is among other Indigenous leaders who criticized the province for the decision.

The chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames and the head of a group that advocates for First Nation economic development in northern Ontario also expressed their disappointment.

This also comes as Hill and local residential school survivors have been seeking government support to begin searching the grounds of the former Mohawk Institute residential school for unmarked graves.

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.

The Six Nations 24/7 Mobile Crisis Line can be reached by calling 519-445-2204 or 1-866-445-2204 and the Six Nations Mental Health and Addictions can be contacted at 519-445-2143 (Monday-Friday, 8:30am-4:30pm).

Do you have information about unmarked graves, children who never came home or residential school staff and operations? Email your tips to CBC's new Indigenous-led team investigating residential schools: WhereAreThey@cbc.ca.

With files from CBC Toronto