Orange Shirt Day Society celebrated the opening of an office in Williams Lake Wednesday.
Phyllis Webstad, whose story about having her new orange shirt taken away on the first day of residential school and how it made her feel that she did not matter, inspired Orange Shirt Day.
With $40,000 in funding from Vancity Credit Union and another $41,000 from Orange Shirt Day T-shirt and mug sales last year, the society was able to hire Webstad to run the office for one year and sign a three-year lease for the office space in downtown.
“We have seven board of directors on our society and we needed somewhere to go to figure out what next,” Webstad said. “We are Canada-wide and heading world-wide and were still sitting around the kitchen table, so to speak.”
Now with an office space, Webstad can Skype into schools across Canada.
“I was doing it at home in front of my computer. I have four dogs and they’d be barking and want to be on my lap. The students liked it, but we needed somewhere more professional.”
Jerome Beauchamp, president of the society, said he was impressed they were able to get to the point of opening a permanent office.
“Phyllis’s work has been amazing,” he said, and pointing to board member Joan Sorley, added the two of them have done so much to move Orange Shirt Day forward.
“It’s been quite the journey,” he said. “A few years ago we got started with this idea because of a speech that was given by Phyllis. Here we are five years later with Sept. 30 being considered by the federal government to become a stat holiday across Canada.”
Beuchamp said the nation-wide recognition of Orange Shirt Day speaks to how important it is to bring to light what happened in residential schools and what can be done to try and achieve reconciliation.
“Reconciliation isn’t only something that First Nations people need to do, it’s all of us in Canada together that need to figure it out together.”
If Sept. 30 is approved it will be a National Reconciliation Day, Beauchamp, said, noting the day was picked because of Orange Shirt Day.
Sorley said the society is happy to be able to support Webstad and her work.
“We are all passionate about reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day,” Sorley added. “The School District and Cariboo Regional District and City of Williams Lake have been there every year.”
Sorley said the society is also working on a book about Orange Shirt Day that will include Webstad’s story and more about the Orange Shirt movement.