Cross Country Checkup

Why some Indigenous people have mixed feelings about Canada's proposed stat holiday

As Ottawa prepares to resume talks about a proposed statutory holiday to remember the history of residential schools, not everyone is pleased with the idea.

'Nobody is coming and inviting us to the table to see what it is that we need,' one caller says

St. Anne's Indian Residential School survivors with NDP MPs outside the House of Commons. (CBC)

The Canadian government plans to implement a new statutory holiday to remember the history of residential schools, but not all residential school survivors and their relatives are in favour of the motion.

The dates being considered are June 21, which is known in Canada as National Indigenous People's Day, and Sept. 30, observed as Orange Shirt Day, which honours residential school survivors.

The proposed statutory holiday was a recommendation made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Ottawa is set to resume discussing the topic in the fall.

On Sunday, Cross Country Checkup asked Canadians if a new statutory holiday was needed. During the program, host Duncan McCue spoke to some residential school survivors and their relatives who called in to share some of their thoughts.

Evelyn Korkmaz, attended St. Anne's Indian Residential School

Evelyn Korkmaz, attended St. Anne’s Indian Residential School between 1969 and 1972. (Submitted by Evelyn Korkmaz)

Evelyn Korkmaz says she personally doesn't need a holiday to be reminded of the "silent genocide" committed by Canada and Christian missionaries at residential schools. 

Korkmaz, who is Cree, attended St. Anne's Indian Residential School in Fort Albany, Ont. between 1969 to 1972. She describes her life there as a child as "not a very pleasant time."

"We were taken away from our families, put into this residential school to be educated. Our education wasn't up to par," she told Checkup from Ottawa. "It was overcrowded and the food wasn't very nutritious. It was an institution of horrors."

Korkmaz, 60, thinks a statutory holiday wouldn't help teach Canadians about the history of residential schools because she feels they would just treat it as another day off.

Instead, she says Canada should put more funding into creating education programs, and have Canadians take part in a workplace seminar one day a year to learn about Indigenous people.

Carla Moses, Sixties Scoop survivor

Carla Moses's mother and her aunts and uncles attended attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School. (submitted by Carla Moses)

Carla Moses, a Sixties Scoop survivor from Kelowna, says she doesn't see the benefit of creating a holiday to remember the legacy of residential schools because it is something that shouldn't be celebrated.

Moses, 54, says her mother and her aunts and uncles all attended the Kamloops Indian Residential School. As a child, Moses, who is from the Okanagan Nation, was placed for adoption out of the country in the United States.

One of the TRC's recommendations was to declare a stat holiday for residential schools. However, Moses feels the commission isn't considering how she and other survivors may feel about it.

"The Truth and Reconciliation group has their points of promises that they're making. They're going through them one by one," she told Checkup.

"But nobody is coming and inviting us to the table to see what it is that we need in order to heal and to move on."

Moses instead believes that the government should do more consultations with Indigenous groups to get a better understanding of how they are feeling before making decisions like a stat holiday.

She adds the government should hear from representatives from every single First Nation in Canada. 

"I think the government first needs to lead by example, and that can't happen until we are invited to the table to be at the discussions that involve our future," she said. 

John Moses, son of residential school survivor

John Moses's father Russ and his aunt, Thelma, attended Mohawk Institute Indian Residential School in Brantford, Ont. in 1943. (submitted by John Moses )

The history of residential schools is something that John Moses' family knows all too well. 

Moses, 55 (no relation to Carla Moses), lives in Ottawa. But his family is from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory near Brantford, Ontario.

Moses' father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all sent to the Mohawk Institute Residential School. 

"But by the time that my father and my aunt uncle attended in the 1940s at the height of the Second World War, any pretense of providing the children in any sort of training or education had been dispensed with altogether," Moses told McCue. 

Moses understands the intergenerational impact of residential schools, but he doubts that the creation of a statutory holiday would help other Canadians understand the legacy. 

Instead, he thinks the holiday would carry more weight if the issue was part of school curriculums across the country.

"Fundamentally, the history of Canada is the history of Indigenous peoples and the history of Indigenous peoples is the story of Canada. The two are so closely intertwined they cannot be separated," Moses told McCue.

Case in point: Moses' father, Russ, who passed away in 2013, was a Korean War veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy and later the RCAF. He also hosted CBC Radio's Indian Magazine program in the '60s.

In 1965, Russ wrote a memoir of his time at the  Mohawk Institute Residential School, which he attended from 1942 to 1947. John Moses shared his father's memoir with media in 2015, in recognition of the closing event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

Written by Samantha Lui and Caro Rolando.