Singing, drumming, heartfelt stories, and welcomes in English and First Nation languages were all part of the Orange Shirt Day celebrations held in Boitanio Park Friday morning, Sept. 30.
An estimate 1,200 students, teachers, community leaders and more gathered in the cold park under foggy skies, with participants taking off their coats for a short time at one point to show a sea of orange T-shirts.
Student and adult drummers performed songs and part way through the presentations involved the whole audience in singing a First Nations song.
Phyllis Webstad, the inspiration for Orange Shirt Day, was there to tell her story about the impact of residential school on her life. Several other people also shared their experiences including First Nations comedian Darrell Dennis.
“More and more awareness is being created every year,” Webstad said. “It was wonderful to see the sea of orange everywhere.”
Dennis was also happy to see such a large turnout for the event.
“It is great to see that many native and non-native people involved in the discussion,” Dennis said. “It gives me hope.”
Dennis said he also had a lot of really great feedback from the audience attending his comedy show held at the Lake City Secondary School Williams Lake Campus Thursday evening.
He said humour is a big part of First Nations culture.
“We use humour a lot in talking about our painful past,” Dennis said. “It is a survival mechanism.”
Carrie Phillip who is from the Sto:lo Nation and works at the Nenqayni Wellness Centre was impressed to see so many children from all over the region participating in Orange Shirt Day and getting a glimpse of what their ancestors experienced. She hoped the experience will encourage them to be curious about exploring their own family histories.
Mark Wintjes, School District 27 acting superintendent, who was also among the speakers, said it was heartwarming to see such a wonderful expression of support for Orange Shirt Day from the community.
Shortly after their presentations in Williams Lake the Orange Shirt Day team leaders headed to 100 Mile House to host Orange Shirt Day activities in that community Friday afternoon.