Opening the Window
Reflections on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
By Izzy Huygen, Representative, and Coby Steinhauer
In the summer of 2021, Canada and the world had “COVID fatigue.” It seemed like the pandemic would never end, and every news item was larger than life. COVID shutdowns coupled with the 24-hour news cycle made life seem overwhelming.
It was in that summer of discontent that Canada was shocked with another news item: the discovery of unmarked graves at residential school sites at multiple locations across the nation. In the aftermath of these discoveries, and in recognition of the significant need for acknowledgement and reparation, the government pronounced a new federal holiday: September 30 would now be known as the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Undoubtedly, it sent the world of labour relations into a frenzy. Was the day going to be recognized in each province? What did each collective agreement require for a newly pronounced holiday? Would CLAC members receive overtime pay if they worked that day? What would the employers be required to do? Would an employer be compensated for the extra cost? And by whom? If the employer or its client wasn’t going to pay overtime, would workers miss a day of work and the day’s wages?
These questions consumed a lot of energy in the days leading up to that first holiday. But this year, with those questions largely settled, it’s time to reflect and spend some time thinking about what this day really means. On this day, Canadians are invited to honour residential school survivors, and those who did not return home.
Coby Steinhauer is a CLAC member working for Brand Energy Solutions at Scotford, near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. He is Plains Cree from the Whitefish Lake First Nation, which is about 185 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, 70 kilometres south of Lac La Biche.
Coby currently lives in Edmonton and works for Brand Energy Solutions as a scaffolder, and he sits on a committee through his employer called PAR (Progressive Aboriginal Relations). PAR is a non-government, national certification program with over 500 member companies, and their mission is to “foster sustainable business relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal business.”
It was a big culture shock for Coby when he first started working off his home reserve with Brand. He first gained an interest in scaffolding through a training program that CLAC does in partnership with Whitefish Lake on a regular basis.
About 100+ scaffolders from Whitefish Lake are now working in the trade with CLAC signatory—and other non-signatory—employers. Coby went to Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) for a business diploma and was involved with Aboriginal Initiatives there as well. He has since worked for Brand in the office and in the field as a scaffolder. He plans to continue in the field and get his journeyman scaffolder ticket.
Coby was very interested in giving some perspective on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and what it means to him.
Here's what he had to say.
In Coby’s Words
My grandparents went to a residential school. My mom and uncles went to an Indian Day School, which is like a residential school, except they did go home every night. The experience for all of them was bad. There has remained a lot of intergenerational trauma as a result, and even an inherent sadness in the community. It was something my grandparents and uncles didn’t really want to talk about, in part because it seemed their story didn’t really want to be heard.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is just the tip of the iceberg, in a good way. It’s not just about one day, and it’s certainly not about whether or not you work that day or if you get overtime pay.
Rather, it’s the opening of a window—and hopefully lots of window and doors. It feels like with the acknowledgement of the darkness around residential schools comes the ability to talk more about it. Some Indigenous folks are more inclined to share and discuss the past—and just as importantly, more non-Indigenous folks are indicating a willingness to ask, to listen, and to hear the stories and experiences, and gain a deeper understanding from those who have experienced it firsthand, and from the younger generations who have experienced the trauma second and thirdhand.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is not a protest, it is not a cry for sympathy or money … it is simply an advocation for the ability to share. Like the tip of the iceberg, Truth and Reconciliation Day is not the end, it’s just the beginning. As an Indigenous person, I am willing and want to share my family’s story and my community’s story to encourage and invite others to listen. The goal of the day is truly to be reconciled and grow together as a society.
September 30 is the new holiday to commemorate National Truth and Reconciliation, and it’s also Orange Shirt Day, which is an Indigenous-led commemorative day intended to raise awareness of the individual, family, and community intergenerational impacts of residential schools, and to remind all that Every Child Matters. On this day, you are invited to wear an orange shirt and consider attending one of the hundreds of events that will be held across the country to observe and honour the history and legacy of residential schools.
It makes Indigenous people happy when others come and share and celebrate with us in our pow-wows, for National Truth and Reconciliation Day events, and for any other reason. We want to share our past as well as our future. If you aren’t sure how to acknowledge or celebrate with Indigenous communities, just ask or show up.
You are invited.