In its second year Orange Shirt Day continues to promote healing and create awareness of Canada’s First Nations residential school legacy.
While the day was celebrated in Williams Lake, Quesnel and 100 Mile House on Tuesday, Sept. 30, many communities across Canada participated, some of them sending in photos on the Orange Shirt Day Facebook page showing how they marked the day.
Phyllis Webstad, the Shuswap woman whose story about residential school inspired the day, spoke to the crowd in Williams Lake’s Boitanio Park, remembering that when her brand new orange shirt was taken away the day she arrived at St. Joseph Mission Residential School she felt like she didn’t matter.
“We were all crying and nobody cared.”
Webstad read a Facebook post from a residential school survivor, possibly from Ontario, who described himself as a residential school veteran.
“I don’t think people really get how this day matters,” she read from his post. “My tears have waited 40 years to fall and all this outpouring and respect has healed a wounded warrior. I will wear my orange shirt on Sept. 30 to feel whole.”
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett brought greetings on behalf of the premier, thanking the organizers and particularly Webstad for having the courage to tell her story.
“Every child matters,” Barnett said. “We must not forget and we must work together for a brighter future for our children, grandchildren and others.”
Mayor Kerry Cook told the crowd, numbering more than 250 people, that it was great to see so many sectors and children in attendance.
Thanking survivors for their courage, Cook said it’s is only through their stories the rest of society can listen and learn to understand the residential school legacy.
“I ask you all to seize this opportunity to pull out the roots of fear, uncertainty and racism and plant new seeds of respect and hope for the future,” Cook said adding she hopes Williams Lake can become a place where all people feel welcome and respected and a city where everyone works together to make sure every child matters.
Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William attended residential school and said while it wasn’t all bad because he learned many things, he cannot ignore the impacts the legacy of residential schools has had on First Nations people.
“They tried to stop us from speaking our language, but if I hadn’t kept it I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with some of our elders,” he said.
Former school trustee Joyce Cooper acknowledged there are residential school students who never made it, saying they have gone on to the spirit world and their stories were never heard.
“We have to correct what’s happened before,” she said.
Describing Orange Shirt Day as one way of moving forward, School District 27 superintendent Mark Thiessen said education can be used for good and for evil.
“It’s important to use it for good,” he said. “Our district is one of three in B.C. that will be piloting a residential school history course for Grades 5 and 10.”
Thiessen said it’s important to be reminded of the past and that survivors be given the opportunity to come into the schools and share their stories.
Award winning singer songwriter Gary Fjellgaard returned to Williams Lake to sing “I Apologize,” his single dedicated to victims and survivors.
“I feel there’s a power in this space,” he said before he sang.
His performance was followed by 11-year-old Megan Amos singing “Suo Guan,” a Welsh lullaby and “The Computer Cat,” under the direction of Angela Sommers of Angelkeys music.
“She is doing those pieces in festival and we picked those songs together,” Sommers said.
Drummers from various First Nations also performed, inviting people to sing along.