National Aboriginal Day is just around the corner – June 21st – and to celebrate it, communities across the country will host events that share, explore and revel in the diverse cultures and contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada. Unfortunately, many Canadians won't be able to take part because they'll be stuck at work.
But National Aboriginal Day, which turns 20 this summer, should be a stat holiday. A national holiday means national respect, action and understanding – it's as simple as that. And to indigenous people, I cannot overstate how important national respect, action and understanding can be.
In 1996, the Governor General of Canada proclaimed June 21st as National Aboriginal Day. Despite this, the day wasn't celebrated anywhere in Canada as an official statutory holiday until 2001, when the Northwest Territories became the first to recognize it as a formal stat. In December, 2015, Yukon indicated that it will consider making this day an official stat holiday. Yukon and Northwest Territories have started the conversation, now it's time for the rest of Canada to take note of the voices calling for change and officially recognize this important day with a day off.
Last year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) report stated: "Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered." With its findings, the TRC drew more eyes than ever before to the issue of true reconciliation; as we navigate the commission's final report, will we choose to truly recognize the past and improve our country's future?
Among the TRC's 94 Calls to Action, is the call to create a new, national, statutory holiday: the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Should June 21st, National Aboriginal Day, become the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation? Or should another stat be created to honour residential-school survivors and remember the legacy of residential schools?
A call to employers
The TRC's calls to action specifically advocate for participation from the corporate sector. Call to Action #92 states Canada's corporate sector should "Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism."
By recognizing National Aboriginal Day – and/or National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – as a stat holiday, business owners and employees can show their respect for indigenous cultures in Canada.
For those who have never learned about Canadian indigenous culture, a nationally recognized statutory holiday might just be the encouragement they need to get out of the workplace and into community events.
As a small business owner, I am not going to wait for the rest of the country to make National Aboriginal Day a formal stat. This year – and every year going forward – all employees at Animikii, a B.C.-based technology company, will have June 21st off to celebrate at amazing cultural events going on across the country.
We've begun a new era of indigenous-settler relations in Canada and the reconciliation movement is not going to happen if we don't make the time to connect in meaningful ways. We'll be a more unified country for it.
P.S.: While we're on the subject, I think "National Indigenous Day" has a pretty good ring to it. Just saying.
Jeff K. Ward is CEO and founder of Animikii, a company that empowers Indigenous organizations to leverage technology. Jeff is a web designer, software developer, author and speaker. He was born in Manitoba and is a proud Ojibwe living on Vancouver Island. Watch his video on National Aboriginal Day here.