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National Aboriginal Day: Celebrating 20 years

Image: Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada

Image: Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada

On June 21, National Aboriginal Day is celebrated in Canada. This day of recognition and celebration was established, in cooperation with Indigenous organizations, to honour the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. While these three groups share many similarities, they each have their own distinct heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.

The establishment of National Aboriginal Day

National Aboriginal Day was the outcome of consultations and statements of support made by various Indigenous groups. Through the Proclamation Declaring June 21 of Each Year as National Aboriginal Day, National Aboriginal Day was announced in 1996 by then Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc.

National Aboriginal Day as a public (statutory) holiday

In 2001, the National Aboriginal Day Act was passed, making the Northwest Territories (“NT”) the first jurisdiction in Canada to recognize June 21 as a statutory holiday (and currently the only jurisdiction).

As provided under the NT Employment Standards Act (“ESA”), there are several conditions employees are required to meet in order to qualify for statutory holiday pay. These conditions include, among others:

  • An employee must have worked for the employer for 30 days within the 12 months prior to the holiday.
  • An employee must report to work on their last scheduled work day prior to the holiday and their next scheduled work day following the holiday.
  • An employee must report to work on the holiday if they are scheduled, or called to work.
  • An employee on pregnancy or parental leave is not entitled to statutory holiday pay while they are on leave.
  • Part-time employees are entitled to statutory holiday pay once they meet the conditions set out above.

An employee who meets all the conditions for entitlement to statutory holiday pay and has the day off, is entitled to receive an average day’s pay for the holiday.

An employee who meets all the conditions and works on a statutory holiday, must receive payment for the hours that they worked at the rate of time and a half, plus an average day’s pay. Alternatively, an employer may transfer the holiday to another day, giving the employee a day off with pay.

The Yukon government is currently seeking public input from May 16 to July 16 on the possibility of National Aboriginal Day becoming an additional statutory holiday in the province. Take the survey here.

In order to make National Aboriginal Day a statutory holiday in Yukon, the province’s ESA as well as other legislation would need to be amended, as would collective agreements for public service employees.

Consult our Payroll publication PaySource, a comprehensive source for Canadian compliance information, for additional compliance information in relation to statutory holiday pay.

The Canadian government’s support for Indigenous Peoples

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “…no relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit.”

According to the Canada government’s 2016 Budget released earlier this year, “The Government is committed to working in partnership with Indigenous peoples to break down the barriers that have for too long held back individuals and communities from reaching their full potential to contribute to and participate in Canada’s prosperity.”

The Canadian government is looking to invest $8.4 billion over five years, beginning in 2016–17, “to improve the socio-economic conditions of Indigenous peoples and their communities and bring about transformational change.”

Amongst other initiatives proposed, over the next year, the Government will be consulting with stakeholders, including Indigenous organizations and employers, in order to work towards a renewed and expanded Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy.

The Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy’s objective is to help Indigenous peoples in all Canadian regions to develop employment skills and pursue training for lasting employment.

Interested in celebrating in your community?

To view events that are being held in your province or territory, visit the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada website here.

Cristina Lavecchia

Cristina is an editor and researcher at First Reference. She is a licensed paralegal and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, Political Science major at York University. During Cristina's paralegal and undergraduate studies she studied employment standards, occupational health and safety, and workplace safety and insurance. Read more

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