A memorial erected in Fort Providence to remember 298 children buried in an unmarked cemetery, including 161 children who attended the local residential school. Photo: Albert Lafferty
Beginning this year, the Northwest Territories will join the list of provinces and territories that recognize September 30 as a statutory holiday.
The holiday is intended to honour children who died at residential schools along with survivors, their families and communities impacted by the residential school system.
The NWT’s legislature formalized September 30 as a statutory holiday on May 30. An announcement publicizing the step came from the territorial government on Wednesday.
The first Orange Shirt Day was created in 2013 by Phyllis Jack Webstad. Her first memory of arriving at a residential school in 1973 was being stripped of her clothes and, most painfully, a brand new orange shirt given to her by her grandmother.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on the federal government to recognize the day as a statutory holiday.
When 2021 brought national attention to unmarked graves at residential schools, the Canadian government passed legislation approving the holiday in a matter of days.
In a press release, the territorial government said the day was recognized as a statutory holiday after consulting with Indigenous governments and organizations, non-profits, industry organizations and labour groups to ensure the holiday would be observed in a way that considers and respects their views.
The territory said it received feedback that meaningful action is needed on the day, such as events, ceremonies and supports for NWT residents to ensure the holiday truly honours survivors.
“The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a time to reflect and remember,” minister RJ Simpson stated in Wednesday’s press release.
“It’s a day to acknowledge the territory’s colonial history and the legacy of residential schools. While we commemorate survivors, families and communities, September 30 can also be a day of hope. We can look to the future of the NWT and its peoples, and continue reconciliation efforts with the resurgence and reclamation of Indigenous cultures, languages, traditions and knowledge.”
While the territory recognized the day as a holiday in 2021, as did the federal government, what has changed this year is who can take the day off work. Following an update to the Employment Standards Act, all employers in the NWT will be required to grant their employees a holiday with pay on September 30, along with all other statutory holidays.
A round-the-clock National Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line can assist former residential school students at 1-866-925-4419. The Hope for Wellness Help Line provides support to Indigenous people at 1-855-242-3310.