Oneida Chief urges province to rescind decision on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

The Chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames says the Nation is in “shock” over Ontario’s decision to not recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a stat holiday.

Chief Adrian Chrisjohn deems the decision a backward step for reconciliation

Adrian Chrisjohn is the Chief of the Oneida Nation of the Thames. (Submitted by Chief Adrian Chrisjohn)

The Chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames says the Nation is in "shock" over Ontario's decision to not recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as a statutory holiday. 

In June, the federal government passed legislation  recognizing Sept. 30 as a federal holiday. The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will be a paid day off for federal workers and employees in federally regulated workplaces. 

On Sept. 9, the Ontario government confirmed that the day will not be a holiday for the province. 

"As a First Nations community and a leader, I have talked to some of my staff members and I think the initial reaction was shock and disappointment," said Oneida Chief Adrian Chrisjohn. 

"It's surprising, in this day and age of the residential school systems that were in the news, and Canada actually making a move on making this a national recognized holiday." 

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is meant to honour Canada's residential school survivors, their families and communities. The holiday publicly commemorates the history and ongoing legacy of the schools. 

In recent years, Sept. 30 has been recognized in Canada as Orange Shirt Day, taking place at the time of year when, in the past, government agents would take First Nations children from their families. 

In a letter addressed to Doug Ford, Chrisjohn outlined the importance of the day, and of the Every Child Matters movement. 

In a letter sent out on Monday, Oneida Nation of the Thames Chief Adrian Chrisjohn expressed "profound disappointment" with Ontario's decision not to make the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a stat holiday. (Oneida Nation of the Thames Administration Facebook page)

"I felt the obligation to speak up," Chrisjohn said. "I think a lot of First Nations issues get brushed to the side, or they're the flavour of the week or flavour of the month, and then it disappears and it does nothing. So I think to build on this awareness is going to help everybody heal." 

He said he hopes the letter will prompt the provincial government to reconsider its decision, or at least lead to a discussion between himself and the premier.  

"A sign of respect"

Joel Abram, Grand Chief at the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, also expressed disappointment over Ontario's decision. 

"We think that if reconciliation is as important as the Ford government says it is, then that decision will be reconsidered as a sign of respect to the Indigenous peoples in the province," said Abram. 

"If the concern is too many statutory holidays, then perhaps some consideration could be given to eliminating Boxing Day or Thanksgiving, for example. Either way, we strongly suggest that the Premier reconsiders his decision as part of his commitment to valuing his relationship with Indigenous peoples." 

Curtis Lindsay, press secretary for Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford, told CBC Toronto in an email that the province is collaborating with Indigenous partners, survivors and affected families to commemorate the day. 

He said, "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."