By Victoria Gray
Ontario First Nations leaders are calling out Premier Doug Ford for not putting the same value on Indigenous lives as the lives of others, after his decision not to recognize September 30 as a statutory holiday.
The Chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames, Adrian Chris John wrote a letter to the premier on September 13 to tell him the move has undermined nation to nation relations and lets his community know where they stand.
“As I am sure you are aware, the movement, Every Child Matters is in honour of those little lives lost at Indian Residential Schools (IRS) and the Survivors. Orange Shirt Day, which has now been named day of Truth and Reconciliation, is about learning from the past and building a new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, founded on mutual respect, trust and honour. However, the provincial government’s decision is in direct conflict with the intent and meaning of this special day. Ontario’s decision to not take part in this national day, tell us that our children matter less, that our Peoples are not worth of the same dignity and respect afforded to other people residing on these lands,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Indigenous Affairs said honouring Sept. 30 would be more akin to Remembrance Day, and government is working with residential school survivors and Indigenous organizations to make sure the day is honoured properly.
The Government of Canada says that the day is intended to give people the opportunity to quietly reflect on the treatment and history of Indigenous people and to participate in community events to raise awareness and to make sure the legacy of residential schools is never forgotten.
Six Nations Elected Chief Mark Hill sent an open letter to Ford on Sept. 16 expressing his disappointment in the government’s lack of action on the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions calls to action.
“While you and many other provincial officials have expressed your commitment to strengthening relationships with First Nations communities, this upcoming statutory holiday is an important symbol indicating a commitment to practical action,” Hill wrote.
Munsee-Delaware Nation’s Elected Chief Mark Peters said he doesn’t know if it’s just this year or that the day will never be a statutory holiday, but says it’s kind of ironic that federal workers would be paid to take a day off as the perpetrators, while many Indigenous people who don’t work for government agencies wouldn’t get the day off.
“We are paying all these people to take the day off and it’s costing us a lot of money. It could be used for other reasons,” he said. “I heard an interesting comment from someone, Indian affairs is where it kind of started. They all get to take the day off and get paid for it. There should be some sort of, I guess commitment to taking that day to learn and be involved in what it’s all about, rather than just go spend the day at the beach.”
Hill said the actions of the government has lead to “marred history” that included the theft and assimilation of children and that more should be done when it comes to crimes committed against indigenous people.
“It is not enough that leaders give a few remarks on occasion, only to let pass more formal opportunities to officially acknowledge where we’ve come from and where we need to go,” he wrote.
He called for Ontario to join British Columbia and the Northwest Territories in fully honouring the day with official commemoration.
Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation Elected Chief Stacey Laforme took a more positive stance and said just because it’s not a statutory holiday doesn’t mean people can’t take the time to reflect on their own.
“While the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is not a provincial holiday this year, I encourage everyone to do their part by educating themselves, having meaningful conversations, taking part in events such as a walk to remember, do something to remember our children in your own way. This day is about education, about creating events that provoke thought, about keeping the memory of our children alive,” he said.
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said with the rediscovery of thousands of unmarked graves from residential
schools Ontarians have had to come to hard truth: that all living Indigenous people are “survivors of Canada’s tools of genocide.” She called on Ford to make Sept. 30 a statutory holiday and said if elected in the 2022 provincial election, she would.
“We can’t simply move on from this truth. That’s why I’m calling for Sept. 30 to be a day for reflection, for education and for concrete commitments and action towards equity and justice for Indigenous people. An NDP government would do this. But let’s start now, while the pain in our hearts is still fresh,” she said.
Mike Schreiner, Ontario Green Party leader also said it was disappointing to see Ford’s government pass up on opportunity and called on him to instate the statutory holiday.
“To move towards meaningful Reconciliation, we must first face the Truth. And a day in Ontario dedicated to education about the horrific history of residential institutions and the impact it continues to have on Indigenous communities today would be a step in the right direction,” he said.