The History of BC’s New Statutory Holiday

September 30 is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.  The origin of this day of recognition began with Orange Shirt Day, which is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events that took place in Williams Lake in May 2013.  The Reunion brought together former students and their families from a variety of areas on the Cariboo Region.  The events of the reunion were designed to commemorate the residential school experience, to witness and honour the healing journey of the survivors and their families, and to commit to the ongoing process of reconciliation.  Phyllis Webstad was a spokesperson for the reunion group leading up to the events and she told the story of her first day at residential school when her shiny new orange shirt, bought by her grandmother, was taken from her as a six year old girl. That story led to the birth of Orange Shirt Day, an annual day on September 30, established to provide an opportunity for discussion about the effects of Residential Schools and the legacy that they left behind.  The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year.

In 2021 the Federal Government established September 30 as a statutory holiday for all federal workers.  This came about as a result of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which included various calls to action.  One of those calls to action was to have the Federal Government establish a new statutory holiday,  National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.  The purpose of this day is similar to Orange Shirt Day, as it aims to provide an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the history and legacy of the residential school system.  The day provides the opportunity to honour the resilience, dignity and strength of survivors, and intergenerational survivors, and to remember the children who never came home from the residential schools.  Importantly, it also provides the opportunity for the citizens of Canada to be educated about Canadian colonial history and the continued impact that this history has on Indigenous communities.

In 2022, the British Columbia government began a process of consultation with Indigenous communities across British Columbia, seeking feedback on how to best observe September 30.  The feedback was that the creation of a new provincial statutory holiday would enable British Columbians to participate in events on the day, publicly acknowledge the history and harms of the residential school system and commit to deepening their own understanding of how these institutions continue to impact Indigenous communities.  Following consultation with Indigenous communities, the government sought input from BC employers and employees, specifically seeking input on the question of whether September 30 should be established as a statutory holiday so that employees would have time to personally commemorate and reflect on the meaning of the day.  On March 9, 2023 the province passed the legislation to make September 30 a statutory holiday (The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Act) and amendments to the Employment Standards Act.  BC joins Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon in recognizing September 30 as a statutory holiday.

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