New stat holiday a chance to 'get educated,' Sask. residential school survivor says

The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a bill to create a statutory holiday for truth and reconciliation across Canada.

Under Bill C-5, the Government of Canada is now recognizing Sept. 30 as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, dedicated to remembering and honouring victims of residential schools and their families. The bill aims to build on Orange Shirt Day, which was created to create meaningful discussion about the legacy of residential schools.

Marina Gardypie was seven years old when she was taken to the Duck Lake, Sask. residential school in the 1950s.

While Bill C-5 is a “baby step” to recognizing residential school trauma, Gardypie said she was frustrated when it was initially introduced.

“It’s sort of like saying, ‘get over it.’ Come on, a holiday, are you serious?” she said.

“That’s how I interpreted it before.”

Now, Gardypie said she supports the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

According to the federal government, Bill C-5 is in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) calls to action.

"It's like what we call the beads and feathers solution. If something is just a symbol. It does nothing to alter the power structures that hold the problem,” said University of Saskatchewan professor of Indigenous studies Priscilla Settee.

For real action, she said, Indigenous people need to be part of policy decision making.

“I think that has to be addressed honestly, equitably, fairly.” 

The bill was tabled by Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault.

On Thursday, he told the Senate that the objective is to create a chance for Canadians to learn about and reflect on a dark chapter in their country’s history and to commemorate the survivors, their families and their communities.

He called the discovery of 215 children’s remains at a former residential school site in B.C. “a stark reminder of the heavy toll of our colonial past,” Guilbeault said in French.

Guilbeault said although he can’t force people to reflect on residential school trauma, he hopes the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation will be similar to Remembrance Day – a reminder to educate about this dark history and to remember those who are affected by it.

Gardypie, one of those people, agrees.

“It’s for them to honour us survivors and a time to get educated and know more about what really took place,” she said.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.