As Williams Lake prepares to celebrate its second Orange Shirt Day on Tuesday, Sept. 30, the Shuswap woman who inspired the day said it’s still surreal.
“There’s always the question of why me?” Phyllis Webstad said. “I cannot say it enough. I am humbled and honoured.”
Orange Shirt Day emerged after Webstad shared a story about having her brand new orange shirt taken away when she arrived to attend the St. Joseph Mission Residential School at the age of six years old.
Her grandmother was raising her in Canoe Creek and brought her to Williams Lake and bought her a new outfit.
Webstad’s story first emerged in May 2013, when she participated in a three-member panel discussion on the residential school legacy during a Pro-D Day event for School District 27.
At the time she said it was as if she didn’t matter and from then on she could never wear the colour orange.
Her story touched the hearts of First Nations and non-First Nations and resulted in the first-ever Orange Shirt Day being celebrated in Williams Lake and 100 Mile House in September 2013.
Orange Shirt Day is a conversation starter, and has been grasped by so many people, even small children, no matter what nationality.
“Everybody can associate with what it would be like to have a child taken away,” Webstad said.
The Orange Shirt Day Facebook page has been liked by people from all over the world, including people from as far away as Australia and Webstad said she hopes one day it will be marked globally to remember residential school survivors.
Tuesday’s event will start with a Harmony Walk organized by the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Multicultural Society, leaving in three different streams from the community garden on Carson Avenue, Marie Sharpe Elementary School on CameronStreet and Courthouse Square on Oliver Street, all arriving at Boitanio Park.
“It’s a walk we do every year commemorating different days so this year we thought we’d support Orange Shirt Day,” said walk organizer Margaret-Anne Enders.
Juno award winner Gary Fjellgaard is returning to perform and the Cariboo’s own Trevor Mack will talk about his latest film which is about residential schools.
“There will be First Nations drumming and Angela Sommer will be there with her children’s choir,” said Cariboo Regional District director Joan Sorley.
Lorelie Boyce, the Williams Lake co-ordinator for the Indian Residential School Survivor Society, said there will be mental health support workers available if anyone needs help.
“Elders Shirley David and Virginia Gilbert will do smudging as well,” she said.
Smudging is a purification ceremony used for various things, Boyce explained.
“Most people use sage around here, but they can also use juniper or tobacco.”
The act washes a person’s spirit and helps people let things go, she added.
“People can say a simple prayer, smudge their eyes, heart and ears, and ask the Creator to take it away and heal them.”
Webstad said other elders will be there to do smudge as well, and there will be a box at the event for people to put thoughts and names in.
The contents will be burnt later.
“The significance is that fire destroys,” Webstad said. “It can help alleviate the issues and is another way of letting go and offering up prayers. Fire is also the gateway to the spirit world. The box will probably be burnt at a sweat.”
School District 27’s director of instruction Gerome Beauchamp confirmed there will be children’s activities and again the BC Lions have donated orange footballs to give away.