The federal government’s plan to create a national statutory holiday commemorating the legacy of Canada’s Indigenous residential schools is laudable in intent.
It’s hard to argue with doing more to remember that dark chapter in our history, and since this particular idea for doing so came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it is not to be taken lightly. Appropriately, a couple of summer days with significance for Indigenous Canadians are being mooted as possible dates.
But envisioning how the commemoration could play out is cause for hesitation – and for considering whether an alternate version of what Ottawa has in mind would work better.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation would give federal employees a day off work, with provinces given the choice of following suit. Presumably, private-sector employers might follow.
Realistically, Canadians do not always treat “stats” as occasions for sombre historical reflection. Do we really want to mark the tragedy of residential schools by sending people scrambling to cottages for a long weekend? (Similar concerns cause the Royal Canadian Legion to oppose giving people a paid day off for Remembrance Day.)
One alternative would be to create an official day to commemorate residential schools and promote it heavily, without designating it a statutory holiday and affording it queasy celebratory overtones.
A look to the United States suggests another potential compromise. There, Martin Luther King Jr. Day draws attention to a shameful legacy of denying civil rights – and also the heroic work of transcending it.
No one Indigenous hero in this country is an easy choice over others for such an honour, but there are certainly good options. Just one example: the great Onondaga long-distance runner Tom Longboat, who won the 1907 Boston Marathon – and twice ran away from his residential school as a boy.
Marking the history of residential schools, so it is harder for Canadians to ignore, is a good idea. And a holiday dedicated to the Indigenous experience in Canada is a fine one as well. But Ottawa should give more thought to how it is combining the two