MLAs mull making National Aboriginal Day a holiday

The Yukon's MLAs have agreed to look into making National Aboriginal Day a statutory holiday. The NDP had wanted the government to agree to make June 21 a holiday starting in 2016.

The Yukon’s MLAs have agreed to look into making National Aboriginal Day a statutory holiday.

The NDP had wanted the government to agree to make June 21 a holiday starting in 2016.

Instead, an amended bill was passed unanimously on Wednesday agreeing to consult with Yukon First Nations, employers, employees and the public about the possibility of making that happen.

“We have the opportunity here today to make this decision and move forward in that direction, to have National Aboriginal Day a statutory holiday in the Yukon,” NDP MLA Kevin Barr said, “because it is the next right thing to do and to promote the understanding of the importance of indigenous peoples in our society, not only the losses, but what is contributed by the first peoples.”

Barr presented a petition signed by 650 people asking for the change. He said he has support from First Nations across the territory as well as Yukon Employees Union, the Yukon Federation of Labour, and the plumbers and pipefitters union.

Yukoners already get nine statutory holidays: five federal ones, plus four designated by the territory.

Approximately one in four Yukoners identify as being First Nations, Metis or Inuit.

First Nation government employees get National Aboriginal Day off, but it is not an official holiday.

Northwest Territories is the only jurisdiction in Canada that recognizes the day as a statutory paid holiday, Barr said.

But declaring something a holiday is not as easy as making an announcement, according to Community Services Minister Currie Dixon.

“First of all, the Employment Standards Act would need to be amended. That would require legislative amendments to that act to recognize a new holiday,” he said.

“Though it’s not specifically required in the Employment Standards Act, it is normal practice to consult with the public and interested groups – such as First Nations, the business community, NGOs and labour organizations – in order to get their perspective on the potential implications of any changes to Yukon’s statutory holidays.”

Someone would have to make sure the changes didn’t conflict with other laws, he said.

According to department officials it would take at least a year to get that done.

Adding an extra holiday will have an impact on Yukon businesses, so it is important to talk to those businesses before moving forward, said Dixon.

“We enthusiastically recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of aboriginal peoples across Canada and here in Yukon.

“We will continue to do so, but before we make a decision like creating a new statutory holiday, more work needs to be done. The amendment to this motion charts out a path forward for us that will allow us to do that work in order to see this conversation continue.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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