Should there be a statutory holiday for remembering residential schools?
Opinions differ among residential school survivors whether a day off would mean something
As the fifth anniversary of Orange Shirt Day approaches this Sunday, CBC Indigenous has invited a panel of residential school survivors to discuss whether a national statutory holiday to remember residential schools is appropriate.
In August, the Liberal government announced it would declare such a statutory holiday, to fulfil the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action 80. The prime minister said the date would be chosen in consultation with Indigenous Peoples.
Panel member Geraldine 'Gramma' Shingoose said her initial reaction to hearing news about a potential holiday to honour residential school survivors was a moment of relief.
"I think it was overdue," she said. "When they did the apology, it should have been recognized."
As a child, Shingoose spent her summers in Tootinaowaziibeeng First Nation in Manitoba, but for nine years was forced to attend Muscowequan Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. The school was about 200 km from her home community and she wasn't able to return home during school breaks because of the distance.
A national holiday would be a chance for people to learn about the history of the schools, said Shingoose.
"I think the day should be Sept. 1 or the end of August," said Shingoose.
"The reason being, that's when we went to residential school. That's when they came to get the children. That's the day that the parents lost their children. And the family was broken at that time."
Orange Shirt Day
Janet Longclaws was seven when she was taken to the Brandon Indian Residential School in 1962. Longclaws agrees that there should be a national holiday to remember what happened inside residential schools and thinks it should be on Orange Shirt Day, which has been observed on Sept. 30 since 2013.
Orange Shirt Day is named for the bright orange shirt given to six-year-old Phyllis Webstad by her grandmother in 1973, which she wore to her first day at St. Joseph Mission School in Williams Lake, B.C. The school administrators took it from her.
"For me, Sept. 30 is about moving forward," said Longclaws.
"It's a day of reconciliation, whatever that is for everybody else."
This weekend for Orange Shirt Day, she is helping to organize an event outside of the Portage La Prairie Indian Residential School. The plan is to bring residential school survivors and non-Indigenous people together to lay wreaths, have a ceremony and a feast for the whole community.
"I think we need more support from them in terms of what's happened to our people and how we're treated in our hometown, and the towns or cities close to where our people live," she said.
'They're not going to sit there and think about residential schools'
Earlier this year, Longlaws and Wanbdi Wakita sat down for interviews with CBC News for the Beyond 94 project. The project told personal stories of survivors as well as taking a look at the progress made on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 Calls to Action.
Wakita talked about the abuse that he suffered at residential school, as well as the emotional work that it took for him to be on his own healing journey.
He said he feels that having a holiday is not necessary. He feels that it's a political ploy by the Liberal government to get re-elected, and would only be a day off from work for non-Indigenous Canadians.
"If it's a holiday, what are people going to do? Most of them, they're not going to sit there and think about residential schools," said Wakita.
Wakita said things like the Indian Act, and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in jails show there are ongoing issues that haven't been addressed.
"I really don't care what the government is trying to do," he said.
"What I do care about is our people, and what we need to do. Every day is a healing day for us and it should be."