Whitehorse Star: National Aboriginal Day as a statutory holiday

This op-ed appeared in the Whitehorse Star on Friday, June 26 2015.

This fall, NDP MLA Kevin Barr plans to table a motion to make National Aboriginal Day a paid statutory holiday in the territory.

The Yukon NDP wants to give the day, celebrated June 21, the same recognition as Discovery Day – which salutes an event as opposed to a people.

Some members of the business community may have serious misgivings about the prospect of having to help finance another stat holiday. And, when the debate ensues, their concerns deserve careful reflection.

But the idea has many considerations working in its favour.

Alberta and Newfoundland/Labrador have a nation-wide tops of seven provincial statutory holidays per year.

In contrast, the Yukon offers only four territorial statutory holidays.

The Northwest Territories already recognizes National Aboriginal Day as a paid stat holiday.

Should Nunavut adopt the same method of honouring its aboriginal residents, the Yukon would be the only territory declining to embrace this formalized appreciation of the importance of its first peoples in the fabric of its society.

Several provinces have established a statutory holiday heralding family values.

The closest thing the Yukon has to that is a Friday off for some people for the Sourdough Rendezvous festival.

That provision is patently unfair when weighing the territory as a collective community, for the holiday is only granted to the public sector and employees of some large corporate interests, including the banks.

Few would suggest that all Yukon families would embrace National Aboriginal Day to purposely pass much of the day attending the festivities. Making the occasion a holiday, however, would prompt many families to spend positive time together at the events.

As things stand now, only two of seven National Aboriginal Days fall on a weekend.

On the other five happenings of those days, most Yukon families are tethered to their daily work routines and unable to participate in or watch most of the celebrations.

As an aside, when Canada Day falls in the middle of the week, as it does next week, thousands of folks are deprived of a summer long weekend between Victoria Day and Discovery Day. This in a territory known for its frustratingly short summers.

National Aboriginal Day as a statutory holiday would create more summer long weekends. How could that possibly be viewed as a negative?

But there are far more important symbolic reasons for considering creating the statutory holiday than simply another chance to check out of the workplace for a day, or earn double-time while on the job.

Only someone truly immune from media reports over the last several weeks would have been unreminded of the turbulent history aboriginal Canadians have endured and the daily challenges they wrestle with today.

A special day formally entrenched in legislation would further fortify Canadians’ staunch appreciation of the country’s first citizens and their best wishes for their success in the future.

Making National Aboriginal Day a formal holiday would provide the occasion with a sense of permanence and legitimacy.

It would recognize the bountiful contributions the Yukon’s indigenous people have made to both the territory’s history and to contemporary society.

An estimated one-quarter of Yukoners identifies as being First Nations, Métis or Inuit.

Unsurprisingly, strong support for Barr’s proposal has emerged from the Yukon chiefs. They have been joined by the president of the Métis Association of Yukon, the grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, and the regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

The Yukon Party and the Liberals have the balance of the summer and the early fall to consider the question and conduct informal consultations before they’ll be asked to take a position on it in the legislature.

They should put that time to good use to hear – to be fair – both sides of the question.

Sign the petition to make National Aboriginal Day a statutory holiday in Yukon: http://www.yukonndpcaucus.ca/aboriginal_day


Photo: chrishunkeler / flickr. Used under a Creative Commons BY 2.0 licence.