By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
One residential school survivor says she believes the province put a lot more urgency this week into finding ways to honour and mourn for Queen Elizabeth, than it did into honouring and remembering residential school survivors, and those who never made it home from residential schools.
And it’s left her believing the province is not being sincere when it says it is committed to truth and reconciliation.
“Once again they have shown it’s just words, but it’s no actions, and no heart,” residential school survivor Vivian Ketchum said on Friday.
“Reconciliation involves more than words, reconciliation involves the heart. That’s what they don’t seem to understand.”
Last Tuesday, Premier Heather Stefanson announced that Monday will be recognized as a day of mourning to “encourage Manitobans to honour and pay their respects to Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.”
All non-essential government services and offices will be closed for the day on Monday to mourn the Queen who died earlier this month.
A 21-gun salute will take place on the south grounds of the Legislative Building, to coincide with the federal memorial service for the Queen in Ottawa, and that will be followed by a Royal Gun Salute of 96 rounds “to honour each year of Her Majesty’s life,” the province said.
But on Thursday, two days after that announcement, Stefanson confirmed that Sept. 30, which is recognized across the country as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, also often referred to as Orange Shirt Day, will not be made an official statutory holiday in the province this year, but will instead be “recognized” as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors in Manitoba have been asking the province to make the day a stat holiday for more than a year.
Although neither Sept. 19 or Sept. 30 have actually been named statutory holidays, Ketchum said she was disappointed seeing the speed at which decisions were made for the day of the Queen’s funeral, and the delays that have continued in making Orange Shirt Day a holiday.
“Residential schools were a historical event in Canada and very much here in Manitoba,” Ketchum said.
“It happened right here in Canada and it should be remembered, and it should be a day off for people to mourn and to learn.”
She said she also knows the importance of Sept. 30 from her own experiences, as Ketchum said she was just five years old when she was first forced to attend the Cecilia Jeffrey Residential School in Northern Ontario, and she experienced abuse at the hands of some of the adults who were working at that school.
“It’s all very disappointing,” Ketchum said.
In an emailed statement sent to the Winnipeg Sun last week a spokesperson for Manitoba’s Labour Minister Reg Helwer said the timing was not right to have Sept. 30 be named a stat holiday by the end of this month, because of how “complex” making those changes can be at the provincial level.
“Unfortunately, establishing statutory days off provincially is much more complex and impactful than establishing them for federal employees and federally regulated industries,” the email read.
“Provincially regulated days cover more than 95% of businesses and workers, whereas federal workers and federally defaulted industry comprise less than 5%.”
In a second email that was sent to the Winnipeg Sun on Friday, a provincial spokesperson defended the province’s efforts at reconciliation with Indigenous people, and at recognizing the importance of Sept 30.
“Manitoba was among the first few provinces to recognize the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and for the second year in a row now, Manitoba is recognizing Sept. 30 as a critical day for reflection, learning and healing,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added the province is working towards the goal of eventually making Sept .30 a statutory holiday in Manitoba.
“The province is actively consulting Indigenous leadership, residential school survivors and other stakeholders on how to best proceed in making Sept. 30 a provincial statutory holiday,” the spokesperson said.
-Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.