On May 25th, Canadian federal lawmakers passed Bill C-5, also known as An Act to amend the Bills of Exchange Act, the Interpretation Act and the Canada Labour Code. This legislation will establish a statutory holiday to commemorate the victims and survivors of Indigenous residential schools.
The statutory holiday, which would apply to federally regulated workers, is set for September 30th.
Saskatchewan MP Georgina Jolibois introduced a similar Bill in 2017 but it fell through in the Senate two years later.
The passage of Bill C-5 comes after the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves on the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
The federal government and Christian churches established residential schools in the 1880s and they remained in operation for over a century. The last residential school in operation, located in Punnichy Saskatchewan, closed its doors in 1996.
Green Party MP, Jenica Atwin teared up at the third reading-debate on May 25th as she drew a link between the legacy of colonialism and the ongoing challenges Indigenous people face today.
Atwin spoke passionately about the importance of acknowledging Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples in the House of Commons on May 25th.
“We have worked very hard to erase the history and culture of indigenous peoples. We have also worked very hard to erase the people themselves, as well as the evidence of these crimes.”
Atwin highlighted that Canadian students are rarely taught about the legacy of Indigenous residential schools in the education system.
“I remember when I was first introduced to the concept of residential schools. It was during my post-secondary studies, largely on my own and in conversations with family and friends.” Atwin said. “It was not taught to me in school. We only learned that Canada was a land of peacekeepers and apologetic people whose brave pioneer ancestors defied the odds in a barren land to build the country we have today.”
In reference to the recent discovery in Kamloops, B.C., Atwin expressed that an apology was not an adequate response on behalf of the Canadian government.
“The discovery of the remains of 215 innocent children is beyond devastating. For Canada, apologies, payouts and even days of recognition will never be enough. There are 215 families who were given no answers about their babies, some as young as three years old, which is the same age as my youngest child.”
In an interview with the CBC, executive director for the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS), Angela White expressed a similar sentiment, urging the church and the federal government to take action.
“Well-wishes and prayers only go so far. If we are going to actually create positive strides forward there needs to be that ability to continue the work, like the Indian Residential School Survivors Society does, in a meaningful way.”
Jenica Atwin believes that Bill C-5 is a necessary first step on the road to truth and reconciliation. The purpose of a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is to bring attention to the horrors of Canada’s past and address ongoing challenges that Indigenous communities continue to face.