Orange Shirt Day sheds light on dark history of Canada’s residential schools

Students of School District 27 hold up signs during Orange Shirt Day outside of the South Cariboo Recreation Centre in 100 Mile House. Brendan Kyle Jure photo.
Seabird Island Community School’s language curriculum developer Dianna Kay said at this year’s Orange Shirt Day, teachers were given resources to support student learning, plus given a professional development on the Project of Hearts. “We focus on “thriving” and becoming the best people we possibly can, as first, second and some third generation “thrivers”, we encouraged the children to be kind to themselves, to others and to their environment,” she told the Observer via email. (Submitted/Dianna Kay)
Alison Green, Tina Donald, Chief Shelly Loring, Charli Fortier and Angie Rainer play drums and sing a song for lonely hearts at the Orange Shirt Day ceremony. Beth Audet photo. Alison Green, Tina Donald, Chief Shelly Loring, Charli Fortier and Angie Rainer play drums and sing a song for lonely hearts at the Orange Shirt Day ceremony. Beth Audet photo.
Students heard songs and stories from leaders of local Indigenous groups to commemorate orange Shirt Day Friday morning. Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News
Nathan Wilson singing the Coast Salish anthem during the opening of the Orange Shirt Day assembly at Chalmers Elementary. (Grace Kennedy photo)
Orange shirt day was sparked from Phyllis Webstad’s account of having her sparkly new orange shirt taken away on her first day of St. Joseph Mission resdiential school. Since then, Orange Shirt Day has become a way to keep the discusion going on all aspects of residential schools. Thy can be purchased at Big Wheel Burger for $20. (File photo)
Grade 10 Reynolds students Abby Busby and Holly Sparks write the names of residential schools onto arm bands as part of a bigger project to learn more about Canada’s past ahead of Orange Shirt Day. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Clad in orange T-shirts, students across the country will spend their Mondays learning about the intergenerational harm done to children at Canada’s residential schools.

Sept. 30 marks the seventh annual Orange Shirt Day, started by Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor and Stswecem’c Xgat’tem from Williams Lake. The national day of remembrance refers to one of her first memories at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in B.C.’s central Interior in the 1970s, when staff took away her orange shirt, bought especially for school, when she was six years old.

“The colour orange has always reminded me of that [incident] and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing,” Webstad writes on the Orange Shirt Day website. “All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

Her story has inspired many across the country and around the world to talk about the realities of residential schools and the wider historical marginalization of Indigenous peoples.

Thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were removed from their homes and forced to attend residential schools. The last one closed in 1996.

WATCH: B.C. woman behind Orange Shirt Day pens new book for teachers

Webstad spends her time sharing her story and her beliefs about reconciliation with young people, including at an elementary school in B.C.’s Fraser Valley earlier this month.

“The elementary (schools) are the hardest,” she told the Agassiz-Harrison Observer. “I have to really watch what I say with the younger ones. With the older ones, I can tell them more, but with the younger ones, it’s really just surface stuff to introduce the topic.”

READ MORE: Webstad’s Orange Shirt story helps lead the way for truth and reconciliation

This year’s Orange Shirt Day will also celebrate Bill C-369, a federal bill awaiting a second vote in the Senate to make Sept. 30 the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. If passed, the last day of September will be a statutory holiday.

“It’s the truth of the history of Canada,” Webstad said of residential schools. “It’s not just First Nation history, this is Canadian history. And Canadians that live in this country need to be aware of this dark past.”

– with files from Grace Kennedy


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RANCH MUSINGS: Thank goodness the land line phone still works

We, the minority in the “developed world,” sometimes resort to older ways of communicating

PHOTOS: Bantam Timberwolves skate to silver medal at home tournament

The T-wolves fell 6-3 to Kamloops in the championship

The importance of literacy in finding employment

Everyone, whether they are employed or unemployed, needs solid literacy skills to be successful

Skaters twirl to top results at Cariboo North Central Regionals

“We came home with four regional championship awards.”

Officials reaching out to those in contact with Canada’s first coronavirus patient

The illness has sickened at least 1,975 people and killed 56 in China

Canada’s basketball community mourns Kobe Bryant after helicopter crash

Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star who won five championships

‘Devastated’: Fans, celebrities remember Kobe Bryant after his death

Bryant played all of his 20-year career with the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant, daughter killed in California helicopter crash

Bryant entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996

Investigation launched after six dead puppies dumped in Richmond hotel parking lot

RAPS reminds people they can always give up puppies they can’t take care of

Canadian Lunar New Year celebrations dampened by coronavirus worries

But Health Minister Patty Hajdu said today that the risk of infection is low

B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

Walking the line between cautious and alarmist

Risk of coronavirus low in B.C. as first case emerges in Toronto: officials

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in B.C.

Most Read