Work hard, listen to your parents, be respectful and get an education.
That was just some of the advice given to the many children attending the third annual Orange Shirt Day in Boitanio Park Wednesday.
“Know who you are — be proud of who you are because you do matter,” said Kamloops Indian Band Chief Shane Gottfriedson.
Orange Shirt Day — Every Child Matters came out of the Truth and Reconciliation commission when it travelled through Williams Lake in 2013. At the time Canoe Creek/Dog Creek resident and residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad told her troubling story about being six years old and taken to residential school, where her new orange shirt was taken away.
Speaking to the children about the experience again this year, Webstad said the colour orange was a life-long trigger of those difficult memories, including being separated from her parents.
“Can you imagine going somewhere for 300 sleeps?” she asked the children.
Before leading the crowd in an opening prayer, Williams Lake Indian Band elder Jean William said the month of September — a time when children go back to school — has always been difficult for her people.
“It brings back memories,” William said. “When we see our friends struggling — we understand. It’s ingrained in us. It’s deep.”
Chief Ann Louie of the Williams Lake Indian Band also took to the stage to talk about the present difficulties surrounding First Nations children in care, and the inequalities many of her people experience being First Nations.
“We are like every other person in the province but we are not treated the same and that has to change,” Louie said, noting the importance of events like Orange Shirt Day
“This is a powerful day — I’m thankful to Phyllis for sharing her story.”
Young children in attendance were treated to learning a traditional drum song from Mike Retasket while secondary students were put in a group and asked how the school system could be more successful.
Then, while the children drummed their new song, the crowd gathered at the Truth and Reconciliation monument in Boitanio Park where carver Dean Ross unveiled a new carving to replace damage to a historical photo of the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School on the original monument.
“It’s all about the healing, the journey,” Ross said of his carving of an eagle, to replace that of the image of the school.
“I hope they get a little sense of healing — they can look at it, touch it and hopefully it will make them feel a little better.”