Going forward, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation should be a day of action – not just a holiday for some, says a Metis tattoo artist based out of Steveston Tattoo Company.
It was an “emotionally heavy” day, said Logan Howard.
“I felt the weight of those generations, and my ancestors, and what Indigenous people have been through in Canada,” he said. “I’m still kind of reeling from it.”
The first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was recognized on Sept. 30 – the date coincides with Orange Shirt Day – having been declared a federal statutory holiday by the federal government.
That legislation was passed shortly after around 200 burial sites were discovered on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. Burial sites at several other residential schools across the country have since been identified by Indigenous communities.
However, Howard disagreed with Sept. 30 being a day off for government employees.
“My opinion is that the government shouldn’t be taking that day off. They should be using that day…to take those steps to try to repair some of the damage done,” he said, noting, for example, that Prime Minister Trudeau was seen vacationing in Tofino on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
“(Trudeau) is not leading by example which I hope our government would do.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Steveston Barbers’s Iain Mackelworth and Raymond Tsuji.
For his part, Mackelworth said he initially felt “a bit empty” when the federal government declared Sept. 30 a statutory holiday.
“We got talking about the whole concept of this day – the concept of calling it a holiday is kind of lost with a lot of people, because it isn’t really a holiday,” he said. “I feel like the message is not going to be heard loud and clear and that seems to be the sentiment of a lot of the customers as well.”
Mackelworth said he would like to see, for example, students spending the day learning about Indigenous issues and history, and government employees at work, specifically to tackle issues facing Indigenous communities rather than “just a bunch of virtue signalling.”
“What are we going to do about next year? I feel most people need to ask that question. The school system needs to ask that question, the government needs to ask that question,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do for this. If everybody puts their heads together and does a little bit of hard work, and if that takes a little bit of time and a little bit of money, that can go a long way to helping people…and building bridges.”
Meanwhile, Tsuji, who is Indigenous – his mother is a member of the Haisla Nation near Kitimat – said he’s “anxious” to see how provinces, for example, will deal with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation next year, noting he would like to see local governments focus more on ways people can take action.
B.C., which did not declare Sept. 30 a statutory holiday, has said it will be working with Indigenous leaders, organizations and communities on how to respectfully recognize the day in the future.
Furthermore, Tsuji said, if it is a holiday, it should be for everyone, but “make sure to ask the people to do something more than just take a day off.”
“There was lots of stuff around town that you could take your family to and learn more about what’s going on and the plight of First Nations people, and all of the ceremonies that we’re having here – hear some of the stories, the truth, exactly from the people,” Tsuji said.
“Doing something like that, I think, is what our local governments should focus more on when they’re talking about what people can do for reconciliation day. So I’m hoping it will turn more towards that than actually being a holiday – people taking action and doing something for a day to make a difference.”
As a way of taking action on Sept. 30, Steveston Barbers and Steveston Tattoo Company joined forces to raise money for the All Nations Outreach Society, a charity run by Tsuji’s cousin, James Harry Senior.
“Us as a group, we started talking here and we decided to do something more constructive than just taking a day off because the majority of people will just treat it like a holiday when it really isn’t,” Tsuji said.
“It’s a time to sit back and reflect and look at some of the problems that the First Nations people are going through and see what you can do to help change what’s happening.”
Mackelworth said they raised over $5,000.
While Howard noted he spoke with a lot of people “making great use of that day” by educating themselves or listening to Indigenous voices, he thinks that next year more people will treat Sept. 30 as a day of action or reflection.
But he also wants to see the conversation carried forward beyond that.
“Let’s make this not just a day… Keep the conversation going, keep that education going, keep moving forward.”