City makes National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a paid holiday for staff

A drumming group performs during the PAGC Orange Shirt Day ceremony outside the Allen Bird Memorial Centre in Prince Albert. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

City of Prince Albert employees will have Sept. 30 as a paid holiday following a decision by council to formally recognized the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a newly formed federal holiday.

Council voted in favour of the motion during their Sept. 7 regular meeting but several councillors expressed reservation that some would not use the day as it was intended.

“I am going to support the motion but I’m going to support with hesitation,” Councillor Blake Edwards said. “I have spoken to a few Indigenous leaders who don’t support the holiday. They don’t support it because it’s going to lose its true value.”

He said he doesn’t feel he deserves to have the day as a holiday. While recognising the need to acknowledge the harm done, Edwards worried people will not use the day for its intended purpose.

“Do I deserve a holiday because of the harm that was caused? I don’t think I do,” Edwards said.

It was an issue acknowledged by other councillors, but some took a more hopeful view.

“Change is a process. It takes time. The first Family Day in February I slept in and took the day off. But organizations took that and developed programs and activities around Family Day,” said Councillor Dennis Ogrodnick. “I think eventually it will come to mean truth and reconciliation. We will have programming and remembrances and commemoration on why we decided as a society that this is a day to sit back and reflect and acknowledge the pain and suffering that has occurred.”

Mayor Greg Dionne said he also was hesitant but would support the motion and did so wearing a shirt given to him the Metîs leaders several days before.

“I told them I would wear it with pride while I cast my vote,” said Dionne.

He also said he told them why he disagreed with the holiday, for similar reasons to Edwards.

He thought that the change would stop some of the momentum growing over Orange Shirt Day ceremonies.

“We all knew what Orange Shirt Day was and it was growing. Every year we had more people wearing orange shirts and we had schools involved. We have to educate our young. If the schools get this as a holiday, we’ve lost our school connection that day,” said Dionne.

Now that there is a holiday, people need to work even harder to mark the day, he said.

“We’re really going to have to work hard on what the day actually is and what we should remember and assist in any way we can our First Nations people to get the message across and inspire reconciliation and what it could be.”

Councillor Tony Head said he has heard much different viewpoints.

“I think people are supporting this, especially in my circle. A lot of friends and family have reached out and it is something we’ll get used to,” he stated.

He said that a lot of schools still acknowledge the meaning behind a holiday.

“I take faith that this will be something more and people will understand exactly what truth and reconciliation is based on this day given a day off and an ability to reflect,” Head said.

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation became a new statutory holiday for federally regulated workers in the public and private sector following the passage of legislation by the Government of Canada earlier this year.

The day was established in response to the 80th call to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.

There were four residential schools that operated in Prince Albert with the first opened in 1879 and the last closing in 1997.

Around the country, unmarked graves at residential schools have raised awareness about the conditions at residential schools and their impacts on survivors.

The City of Prince Albert said it will continue to work with community partners on a number of initiatives through the Municipal Cultural Action Plan to champion and implement the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and to celebrate, support and promote Prince Albert’s rich Indigenous history and make-up.

The City was encouraging people to still wear orange on September 30 as a way to honour the experiences of Indian Residential School survivors.

The Prince Albert Urban Indigenous Coalition (PAUIC) will be hosting a one-hour education session on September 30, on the topic of residential schools in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day.

The pre-recorded session is being designed to create awareness and understanding of the truth of residential schools and the impacts they have had on Indigenous people.

The session is about one hour and will be available on the PAUIC website as well as on social media at the start of the day on September 30.

Subscribe or watch the City’s events calendar for further details when available.

—with files from Jason Kerr/Daily Herald