Keeping true to their word, community members touched by the recent St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School Commemoration Project are hosting Orange Shirt Day next week to continue the journey of reconciliation between First Nations and non-First Nations in the Cariboo Chilcotin brought on by the residential school experience.
“It’s taking on a life of its own,” said Cariboo Regional District director Joan Sorley of the event planned for Monday, Sept. 29, in Boitanio Park, beginning at 10 a.m.
“Luckily the park is big.”
Sorley said the organizing committee, made up of Sorley, Carol Archie, Chief Fred Robbins, Irvine Johnson and Phyllis Webstad, is expecting many dignitaries to attend the event, including respected AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo as well as Juno award winner blues musician Murray Porter.
But the real inspiration behind Orange Shirt Day comes from Dog Creek band member Phyllis Wedstad, who shared her painful experience of feeling she didn’t matter at St. Joseph’s Residential School. Through tears, Webstad shared that moving story of having her new orange shirt bought by her grandmother taken from her as a six-year-old attending the Mission, while the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in Williams Lake last spring.
“It’s still difficult for Phyllis to share her story. We really have to acknowledge her bravery for that,” said Sorley, who counts Webstad as a close, personal friend.
Sorley said during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Chief Justice Murray Sinclair, head of the commission ordered by Stephen Harper in 2009 to help heal the wounds inflicted on First Nations by the Canadian residential school system, challenged local community leaders to continue the work of remembering, recovering and reconciling.
“The focus is on healing and our hope and commitment to be different — to do better.”
Monday’s ceremony will include Webstad’s story, words from Chief Atleo, a children’s presentation, a performance by Porter and information highlighting resources available in the community to support children as well as activities for children to learn to help one another beat racism.
Sorley said School District 27 is also a strong supporter of the event, and will be heavily involved Monday.