by Phil Ambroziak
National Indigenous Peoples Day will not become a statutory holiday any time soon, but that doesn’t mean Georgina Jolibois has given up on a cause near and dear to her heart.
The Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River MP had introduced a private members’ bill calling for National Indigenous Peoples Day – which is recognized on June 21 – to be declared a national holiday. However, during a recent House of Commons committee meeting, the bill was amended to make the date Sept. 30 instead in honour of residential school survivors.
“After talking to so many Indigenous people from across Canada, it is pretty clear we are all speaking the same language,” Jolibois told Northern Pride. “History has not been kind to Indigenous people and there are many more examples than just residential schools or boarding schools. Historically, things have been very painful and, while it’s OK to acknowledge that and to honour it, we need to move forward and we need to heal.”
The MP went on to say it’s important to build and strengthen First Nations.
“That’s why I’m open to the change of date,” she added. “It will still be an opportunity for Indigenous people to move forward and to discover how sincere the Canadian government is when it comes to reconciliation. Our job is to determine how we can move forward and focus on healing, building nations and building communities. That intent will always remain and I believe we can still have that discussion on Sept. 30.”
National Indigenous Peoples Day is a general celebration of Aboriginal culture, while Sept. 30 has come to be known as Orange Shirt Day, which focuses on remembering the traumatic past of residential school survivors. This day refers specifically to Phyllis Webstad whose orange shirt, given to her by her grandmother, was taken away from her on her first day of residential school. Once established, the new holiday is expected to be called National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“Sept. 30 is about recognizing the fact every child matters,” Jolibois said. “We value youth from across Canada and can use this opportunity to teach our kids.”
Jolibois also said, as feedback on the legislation from various groups was received, it became clear the latter date would be more appropriate for a federal statutory holiday. The bill passed second reading last fall and Jolibois believes it won’t be long before the new holiday is made official.
“There are essentially two more stages,” she said. “Third reading will take place in the House of Commons and, based on negotiations we’ve had with the Liberals, the vote will likely take place within the month. If successful, it will then go back to the Senate, which will hopefully speed up the process (of giving it royal assent) and finish by June. This would mean the new holiday could be celebrated this year.”
Jolibois, who was elected to Parliament Hill in 2015, said she feels much pride in what she has been able to accomplish in terms of the bill.
“I’m very grateful for the support and guidance I have received throughout this process,” she said. “It’s been a great experience and I am happy to have achieved such a great thing.”