Students from Marie Sharpe Elementary School join Cheryl Champan from Xat’sull First Nation and Mike Retasket of Boneaparte First Nation to lead the crowd in traditional song during last year’s Orange Shirt Day in Williams Lake at Boitanio Park. Angie Mindus/Tribune file photo

SD27 prepares to celebrate Orange Shirt Day for the fifth year

Orange Shirt Day critical for all students, says SD 27 superintendent

Since its inception in 2013, Cariboo-Chilcotin School District has been a staunch supporter of Orange Shirt day bussing its students to events each year.

As Orange Shirt Day falls on a Sunday this year, Superintendent Mark Wintjes still wanted to mark the event with his students. As such the district will be observing the day on Sept. 26 with events happening in Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.

Beginning at 10 a.m. at Boitanio Park, the event’s Master of Ceremonies is Jerome Beauchamp and will be opened with a prayer and song from Virginia Gilbert. Guest speakers throughout the event include Esk’etemc chief Fred Robbins, Mayor Walt Cobb, MLA Donna Barnett and Wintjes himself, among others.

The event will be concluded with a drumming circle led by Cheryl and Mike Ratasket before the students are bussed back to their respective schools. Honouring and recognizing the importance of this event to his First Nations students was at the forefront of Wintjes’ mind.

“It’s very similar to how we run our Remembrance Day celebration. If it falls on a holiday or a weekend we always do recognition in school prior to Remembrance Day,” Wintjes said, adding that school districts across the province are selecting alternative days to celebrate this important event.

Read More: PHOTO GALLERY: Orange Shirt Day in Williams Lake 2017

Truth and reconciliation are a huge priority for SD 27, as almost 35 per cent of district students identify as being First Nations. As a result, he believes teaching and honouring their history through events like Orange Shirt Day are integral to meeting that mandate.

“We need to recognize where we’ve been, yet move forward in a positive direction,” Wintjes said.

Despite the difficult nature inherent with the conversations around residential schools, Wintjes said he has seen a tremendous growth in the support his students show for this event. There is a “sea of orange” at each event now showing their support and active involvement with the day.

First Nations District Principal David DeRose said that bringing the students to this event each year is important in the process of instilling within them the importance of reconciliation and that of First Nations-based education.

DeRose said the tremendous growth of the event since its first year has been somewhat overwhelming for him and other members of the Orange Shirt Committee.

He noted they’ve received feedback on the event from not only all over Canada but also internationally as Indigenous groups continue the global talk of reconciliation.

Read More: Abbotsford students play and learn in Williams Lake on Barkerville trip, meet Orange Shirt Day co-founder Phyllis Webstad

“In the integration of Aboriginal content in all aspects of the curriculum, it’s important that we have kind of have a jumping off point with Orange Shirt Day. It helps the teachers be able to start having these tough conversations within the classroom,” DeRose said.

DeRose and Wintjes invite all members of the community to celebrate Orange Shirt Day with the district on Sept. 26.

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