Letter: Does a truth and reconciliation holiday add insult to injury?

Perhaps it would be better to challenge Canadians to take reconciling actions, rather than having a paid day off

Canadians from all walks of life, including this crowd in Ottawa, paused Thursday to commemorate the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. In a letter to the editor, Pangnirtung businessman Markus Wilcke wonders if a day off is the right approach. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By Markus Wilcke
Special to Nunatsiaq News

When I heard Canada declared Sept. 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I was happy there would be at least one day every year when Canadians could give serious thought about the injustices our governments, organizations and individuals have done to Indigenous people in this country throughout our history and to this very day.

On second thought, it occurred to me this statutory holiday is possibly adding insult to injury. While a national holiday will result in speeches and events reminding Canadians about the sad history and continuing injustices inflicted on Indigenous Peoples, we should perhaps think for a moment whether it would be more meaningful if Canadians would be challenged to take reconciling actions, rather than having a paid day off.

Likely, only few Canadians will listen to the speeches, and even fewer will take actions that will contribute to the betterment of the lives of Indigenous people. In fact, it is more likely most of the estimated 1.3 million Canadians who are being afforded the holiday will take this day to sit back and relax, and possibly have a party, not knowing, or quickly forgetting what this national holiday is about.

Perhaps, instead of taking a day off, Canadians could take one day every year to dedicate their time and effort to the betterment of the lives of Indigenous people. The money lost to the Canadian economy on that day alone could build houses for Indigenous people living in overcrowded homes, resulting in one of the highest tuberculosis rates in the world, not to mention many other conditions related to poverty.

The estimated cost of lost worktime to the federal, four provincial governments and 18,000 federally regulated employers across Canada that will honour this national holiday is approximately $641 million. If this amount of money would be invested to reduce the continued suffering Indigenous people experience in this country every single day, it could make a tangible and meaningful contribution to reconciliation.

For example, $641 million could build 957 new homes in Nunavut —or almost 27 per cent of the estimated 3,545 new homes that Nunavut Housing Corp. estimates are needed to alleviate the territory’s critical housing shortage.

Having a Truth and Reconciliation “working day” instead of a holiday would, in addition to reminding Canadians of the importance of treating Indigenous people fairly and respectfully, challenge all Canadians to work together to put reconciliation into action.

Markus Wilcke has lived in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for over 40 years. During most of this time he worked as a health professional. He is also a graduate of the Native Studies Program of the University of Saskatchewan and a councillor in Pangnirtung.

Nunatsiaq News encourages readers to submit letters to the editor about current events. They should be no more than 400 words and can be submitted to editors@nunatsiaq.com.

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(26) Comments:

  1. Posted by I’m for T&R day on

    It’s long past time we have a “holiday” for the first Nations of this land.

    Hopefully one day it does morph from being a day of remembrance to a day of pride and cultural learning.

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  2. Posted by Togetherness on

    The more the activists and governments push what they call reconciliation, the unhappier everyone gets. Tribalism hurts everyone, but it hurts those who are meant to benefit the most.

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  3. Posted by eskimo joe on

    Marcus, it takes an indigenous person to understand this start of a national holiday. It make no sense to non native why all this money is wasted, and of course to non-native, it sure looks that way. I have had brothers lost to starvation in the fifties, I life home at young age (under ten) because governments said so and never to return to live under the roof of my parents. I am a pensioner now, wondering why all this happens; because non-native Canadians says it is better for me, is this still applied today, Komusabe knows better than Tantoo? Let us the natives lick our own wounds and; please stop wrapping cotton bandages to our wounds. You know what? I am assuming Polish, Norwegians, Danish and French and other countries knew exactly what a human affliction is during the last great war. Being conquered; it’s like that exactly….ruled by injustice. Some may say it’s a small scale compared too but inhumane treatment is the same as in all world genocides or its intents to eradicate, my case was I am not white enough, too brown, to dirty, uneducated and so on and so on….

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    • Posted by Giant Homogoneous Mass? on

      Tell me Joe, are you able to distinguish among the different white identities and cultures, or are they one monolithic mass? I ask as you seem to be both thoughtful on such matters.

      I’m curious as Nunavut is the only place I’ve ever lived where people seem speak of a giant ‘white’ population, rather than by how those white people identify themselves.

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      • Posted by eskimo joe on

        why not…non white holds the best paying job, most favored by the non native directors, assumed to be elite, and controls 90% of the Nunavut [population, damn emerging of the RIOs and the IPGs (Damn you NA) must be painful, trying to get justice to Nunavut that has been dominated by non Inuit since 1768,,,Thats when Prince Rupert gave the great chunk of land to a company…we have been at disadvantage since than, This is why there is even T&R today, I didn’t asked for it, domineering just came naturally to the oppressors. Wanting to change it, is that a crime or justice?

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      • Posted by eskimo joe on

        You mean you like it as it is? minority still holds the best jobs, managerial positions, wealth and are still the boss figures. You like that eh? The natives are receiving education to your level, watch out. When minority hold to power for so long, look at de Klerk and the white farmers of SA,

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  4. Posted by T & R, for everyone ! Western Eskimo on

    The big shots of Nunavut made the usual speeches in Iqaluit, but did not say anything
    about abuses happening to Inuit, by other Inuit people.
    Who is Tagak Gillis trying to blame with ” TONGUES” ? She knows darn fine Inuit people
    have been in charge of Inuktitut for 35 years or so & well paid to teach it !
    With leadership & pathetic critics like this , working Inuit like me have little chance at
    all about success in the future.

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    • Posted by The voice on

      It’s Inuit like you that need to have a voice for the advancement of Inuit Nunaangat. Pragmatic and realist with a vision. Unfortunately your type is usually censored by the elite ruling class in Iqaluit for not following the ITK NTI narrative

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  5. Posted by Children First on

    What really adds insult to injury is knowing the prime minister Justin Trudeau took the day off in Tofino. He is the perfect example of what you are referring to Markus. He is indulging in selfishness, instead of taking concrete actions.
    Don’t believe me? Google it up. He took the day off. It is documented.

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    • Posted by What Nonsense on

      It is documented, and so what of it?

      You are criticizing a man for taking a holiday…on a holiday?

      Tell you what, unless you are standing in front of a cenotaph all day on Remembrance Day and making the rounds thanking our veterans, then your argument is nonsensical.

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      • Posted by Children First on

        Well… my point exactly. Every year, you see Justin Trudeau standing in front of a cenotaph for remembrance day.

        I guess we don’t deserve the same kind of respect.

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      • Posted by Consistency on

        He is not just a Man that took a holiday. He is the Prime minister of Canada, there are just some thing that while he is PM he needs to do better. What is it with this PM that keeps having vacations scandal’s right after an election?

        He could have started his Holiday on Oct 1 and all would have been fine. No i don’t think he should have paraded around because the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is not about him but he could have been at some ceremonies in the background, not even on stage, listening and learning. The Cameras would still have noticed him but he could have said the day was not about him.

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    • Posted by Sweet Irony on

      The worst thing is, he basically gave himself a day off! LMAO!

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    • Posted by JOHNNY on

      You figure , he would a least show up for a PHOTO OP somewhere.

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  6. Posted by Insensitive on

    Only a non-Indigenous person would write such a letter like this. And only a non-Indigenous paper would allow to publish a letter like this. This is insensitive and callous. Nobody questions days off for New Year’s, Family Day, Easter, Good Friday, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Civic holiday, Labour Day, Thanksgiving, Rememberence Day and Christmas, all of which were created based on the predominant societies’ priorities of commemoration – most are antiquated, religious or British days of celebration – which we have had to observe even though they are meaningless to us, and yet expends an inordinate amount of the public and private sector’s economy – this is just a ridiculous letter revealing the underlying masked racism we experience every day and the prevailing attitude of paternalism and exalted entitlement

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    • Posted by Welcome to Canada on

      What is a non-indigenous paper? I wasn’t aware that we had papers dedicated to particular ethnic groups?

      I guess that I don’t see why there is any problem. You have no use for Canada Day or Victoria Day – that’s fine, you do you. I do have a use for the and will celebrate as I see fit

      Equally, I have little to no use for T&R day and it is as meaningless to me as Victoria Day may be to you.

      In a multi-cultural society such as Canada it is to be expected that not all holidays are equally meaningful to everyone – that isn’t going to change. It is not insensititivy, it is tolerance for diversity.

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      • Posted by eskimo joe on

        You are going to have to change your tone and way of life. have you ever notice yet the face of Canada is changing very fast? French and English may not be dominate languages for too long.. Your great grand children may have to learn EASL then and it’s coming fast to Canada. Example, a Native GG??? that gotta bad to a minority soon to be like you.

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    • Posted by iWonder on

      I’ve read the letter and your response to it over a few times, trying to understand the nature of your grievance. I don’t see the author contesting the value of marking this date as a holiday, which appears to be the crux of the issue for you. Look again, the letter opens with the author celebrating the creation of a date to mark a “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.”

      From that misunderstanding you go on to accuse the author of everything from racism to paternalism and entitlement. Yet none of this appears to be supported by anything said in the text of the letter itself.

      Could it be that you hastily read this letter, expecting to see something you didn’t like by virtue of the fact that it was written by a non-indigenous person? Were you primed to react? It looks like it.

      Either way, maybe you should carefully read the letter again and consider if an apology might be in order?

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  7. Posted by Tulugaq on

    This letter may have inspired Quebec’s Premier to decide not to honour it as it would impact negatively the province’s “productivity”… In any event, this was one of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 94 Calls to Action that the feds have decided to accept and institute.

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  8. Posted by Oh the irony of the letter on

    Marcus you will never understand the significance of the recognition this day brings to the original citizens of the land. You never lived it and figure you have the best solutions. This day came because the citizens who suffered and lots died, wanted to have a special day, keep working if you want, but we will take the time and give our respects to the victims.

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  9. Posted by Damned either Way on

    You cannot please anyone today. Let’s have a holiday as a small gesture to acknowledge reconciliation. No, let’s not have a holiday because people will take the day off and not care.

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  10. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    I agree with Marcus. As an analogy, when I was a student Remembrance Day was not a holiday. If it fell on a school day, we stood at 11 o’clock for 2 full minutes of silence. People did that in other workplaces, too. Before that, and after it too, we had lessons from our teachers about the significance of the day, that it was to honour those lost in war and to celebrate the peace that had been signed. That was meaningful. Now Remembrance Day is a holiday, and there is no teaching in class on that day because there is no class. Not many people attend a ceremony at a cenotaph. Not many watch it on TV either; they switch to another channel. The National Day of Truth and Reconciliation need not have been a holiday. It could have been designated as a day of remembrance, with appropriate teaching in schools so that students would learn its meaning. I don’t think that most people will use the day as a time for thought on the appropriate issues, as may have been intended. But the government gets to tick the box for having blindly followed one of the 94 calls to action.

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    • Posted by Consistency on

      That is where Sept 29th becomes the new ‘Orange shirt day’ and that is the day (though this needs to be talked about more then just 2 days a year) to teach and talk about in school and work places, then on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation (Sept 30) you spend the time with family and community to continue the reflection.

      You are correct about Nov 11, and more should be done in the days leading up.

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  11. Posted by Peter on

    If we really want to have truth, reconciliation, get rid of the racist Indian Act, disband the federal department that oversees Aboriginal affairs, take the money and transfer it to the bands, it is time.

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  12. Posted by Leonard Rutley on

    reconcilliation? I highly doubt it. And if its possible its a long way off. If anything Inuit
    need to reconcille with themselves.
    Truth? I doubt if most residents here could handle the truth.

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  13. Posted by Redbrew1 on

    Well Justin sure used the new holiday by practising the indigenous craft of surfing in Tofino . What an elitist jerk.

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