Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is encouraging provinces and territories to step up reconciliation efforts with Indigenous Peoples but stopped short of saying they should make the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, commonly called Orange Shirt Day, a statutory holiday.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson recently announced her Progressive Conservative government would not be making that day a provincial statutory holiday this year, citing the need for ongoing consultations.
The federal government made the day a statutory holiday for its workers and federally regulated workplaces in 2021.
The decision to do so is in response to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action.
The prime minister said the federal government has moved forward on “living up and fulfilling” that call.
“That is a day that Indigenous Peoples wanted to be marking truth and reconciliation, and all the challenges and difficulties that came from that,” Trudeau said Wednesday at an event in Winnipeg promoting his government’s new budget.
“(The federal government) certainly hopes that provinces would realize their responsibility in the path of reconciliation and take on the actions laid out in the calls to action, but those are obviously decisions for the provinces to make.”
Orange Shirt Day falls on Sept. 30. It was established in honour of the experience of Phyllis Webstab, whose gift of clothing from her grandmother was taken away on Webstad’s first day at a residential school.
The Manitoba government closed non-essential offices and services the past two years on Sept. 30, giving most of its workers the day off. Schools from kindergarten to Grade 12 also closed. Stefanson has said that will continue this year.
“In 2017, Manitoba was among the first provinces to pass legislation to recognize Sept. 30 as Orange Shirt Day and the federal statutory holiday,” a written statement from the premier’s office on Wednesday read.
“As a result, Manitoba continues to mark Sept. 30 as a day of observance. Our government will continue to support community-led initiatives, programming and events to honour the lives lost, the survivors and their families, and move forward together to advance reconciliation.”
The province has also cited the vulnerability of businesses still recovering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in her decision not to make the day a statutory holiday this year.
The organization responsible for advocating for First Nations in Manitoba expressed its frustration following the province’s decision.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a statement Wednesday that the province has missed a key opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to healing and recognizing First Nations people.
Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said the Manitoba government has not consulted with her on the issue in the last six months.
Some businesses and organizations have chosen to honour the day.
“I would like to take this opportunity to recognize all businesses, private sector establishments and organizations that have chosen to observe the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation by closing their operations and giving their employees the opportunity to reflect on the significance of this day and how it affects First Nations peoples,” Merrick said.
Some provinces and territories have followed the federal government.
Trudeau commended efforts that are in place or underway and called for provinces and territories that are lagging to move forward more seriously on reconciliation work.
“There are some provinces that have not moved forward as quickly or strongly or as forcefully on the path of reconciliation as either the federal government has or other provinces have, and I would certainly like to see more provinces, all provinces do more on reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples,” he said.
The prime minister also celebrated Passover with members of the Jewish community at a personal care home.
“Passover is a time of reflection, of sacrifice, of celebration,” the prime minister said to residents and staff at the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre.
“It’s also a moment to give thanks for the strength and resilience of this community that has always been there — not just for each other, but for all of us from coast to coast to coast.”