Orange Shirt Day founder and executive director Phyllis Webstad continues to hope Canada will establish a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
“All the other national statutory holidays in Canada are colonial and not one of them is to do with Indigenous people,” Webstad told Black Press Media. “It’s time to see that changed.”
Webstad announced Thursday, March 25, she is calling on the Conservative Party of Canada to work with all parties to support and pass Bill C-5 to establish Orange Shirt Day, Sept. 30, as a National Day of Truth and Reconciliation and has penned and sent a letter to Conservative leader Erin O’Toole formalizing her request.
“In Williams Lake survivors are 40 years of age and over and in Canada in the next 50 years or so there are going to be no survivors left,” she said. “While survivors are still with us they can share their experiences and once they are all gone, Sept. 30 will be a day of remembrance.”
Bill C-5 was first introduced in the House of Commons by the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage in September 2020.
Webstad was one of several speakers who made a presentation about the bill to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in November, appearing by Zoom.
“The bill has been stuck in the House of Commons since Nov. 25 and hasn’t gone anywhere since then,” she said.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established by the Government of Canada in 2008 to document the history and lasting impacts of the Indian Residential Schools, lists 94 Calls to Action in its final report.
Webstad said the passing of Bill C-5 will be an important step in implementing Action number 80, which calls upon the federal government to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process.
Previously, Bill C-369 — to make Sept. 30 a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a statutory holiday — passed through the House of Commons in March 2019 and was to proceed to the Senate for final approval.
It did not go ahead, however, because the federal election was called in the fall for October 2019.
Orange Shirt Day has been observed on Sept. 30 since 2013, when Webstad told the story of her first day of residential school at St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake. At the age of six years old in 1973, she was excited to be wearing her new clothes and going to school for the first time, only to have her shiny new orange shirt ripped away and learn that she didn’t matter.
Black Press media has reached out to the Conservative leader for a comment.