Today is a national holiday in Canada and most people, well, sort of understand what it is… and what it’s called.
Where do we begin? First, the name.
The actual name, according to the Government of Canada website, is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
So, name aside, what is the day about? Another good question, and just as confusing an answer.
I conducted a very, very informal survey to see what Canadians thought. I asked a random sampling of 15 friends, family, colleagues and social media folks if they could explain to me in a few words, or one sentence, what the public holiday is about.
“It’s about the dead kids they found from the schools,” said a radio colleague in B.C.
“Taking the land from the indians,” said a Facebook “friend” in Toronto.
“The native women going missing and the government not doing anything about it,” said a relative in Winnipeg.
“No idea. I get the day off work,” said a former classmate who works for the federal government in Edmonton.
You get the picture, right?
So, what is the day really about?
Again, according to the Government of Canada website: “The day honours the lost children and Survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.”
As for the day itself, did any of the random folks – and these people are of different age, culture and race, including one indigenous man — have plans to take part in the “commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools” today?
No. Moreover, nobody had a clue what “commemorating” would entail.
“Doesn’t commemorate mean to celebrate?” asked one of the people. “Are we supposed to celebrate the culture? Is it like Indigenous Day?”
“I see all the orange shirts and the children matter messages,” said one colleague. “I guess I’ll hang a shirt in my window?” said as a question.
“I think they’re trying to compare it to Remembrance Day which is a false equivalency,” said a friend who Googled the holiday as we discussed it. “People going to war is completely different than what some churches did so many generations ago. Remembrance Day is remembering the people who fought for our country — it’s a time to look back and be grateful and quietly salute them.”
When asked to compare or contrast the similarities between Remembrance Day and National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, my radio colleague said, “No disrespect to the murdered children from residential schools but I don’t understand why it should be treated like Remembrance Day. Even Remembrance Day has lost its meaning. People don’t stop what they’re doing that day. How are we expected to do that with this (holiday) when nobody knows what we’re supposed to do?”
When asked if any of them would watch a related TV program, read a blog or participate locally for the first-time holiday, all of them said they had no intentions to do so. The overall consensus was that they viewed it as a day off and nothing more.
“Are the stores open?” asked one friend, indicating it’ll likely be a social day to shop.
“The liquor stores are open and that’s government-run (in Manitoba) so obviously not all levels of government are participating,” observed one colleague. “It’s mixed messaging then. One government is telling us to take a pause and another is allowing us to shop for booze. Is that part of the commemoration? Drinking?”
Indeed, if the business community at large hasn’t bought into the concept of the holiday, it’s unlikely the public will either. When I reviewed a list of “What’s open and what’s closed” for the holiday in my city, it looks like business as usual. Most city services were operating, the buses were running on a regular schedule — there isn’t anything to indicate that it’s a holiday. No, these shouldn’t be viewed as determining factors of a holiday but that’s how people will look at it.
Then again, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s schedule lying about him being in Ottawa for “private meetings” while actually in British Columbia vacationing with family — and seemingly scrambling to save face once word got out — it’s hard for people to fully support something the leader of the country is side stepping the day of. (He did make appearances the night before but…)
I’d say it’s a pretty big slap in the face to the movement when most business owners, given the option, said, “Nah, we’re not gonna close for this” as they would for the more traditional and well-established holidays.
I acknowledge the reason for the holiday but if the majority of the population – and I’m not suggesting 15 random people represents the majority of the population, but a national news outlet did give the day three different names — I don’t know that this holiday is really a holiday in the traditional sense of the word.
We’re living in such a self-centred society that many people only look out for themselves. I experienced that with the people questioned for this column. The overwhelmingly implied response was, What does this day mean to me? — as if to say, What do I get out of it?
If this is the first year for the holiday and the meaning doesn’t resonate with the public, then it’s screwed in years to come because it won’t get buy in from the people. If they see it as a day off of work or school, then that’s what it’ll be to them going forward. I’m not suggesting that’s the right or wrong attitude to have, however it’s likely a fair assessment of the mindset. (For the record: My schedule follows the American calendar so I don’t have the day off.)
It’s tough to force people to have emotions about something they don’t fully understand. Will year 2 be different? I’m not so sure.
If there isn’t wide-spread support for the holiday, will it further divide the country on issues of racism? I believe that’s where the conversation will go. Then, we’re right back where we started and haven’t progressed at all. That’s the opposite effect of what this holiday is supposed to do, I believe.