On Sept. 30, people in communities across B.C. and around Canada will don orange shirts to commemorate the experience of the approximately 150,000 First Nations children sent to Canada’s residential schools between the 1880s and 1996.
This day has special significance in Williams Lake: it was here in our community that Orange Shirt Day was first introduced after residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad shared the story of her experience at St. Joseph’s Mission School in the early 1970s. In 2013, the St. Joseph’s Residential School Commemoration Project gave Phyllis and other Residential School survivors in our community the opportunity to share their stories with their families and their non-First Nations neighbours.
Phyllis recounted how, when she arrived at school at age six, she was stripped of her belongings — including her brand new orange shirt. The experience left her feeling worthless and like she didn’t matter. Thanks to her courage in sharing her story, we now all have the opportunity to affirm that every child matters by participating in Orange Shirt Day. It’s a day to remember the past, and honour those who survived that dark period in our country’s history, while recognizing the suffering they endured. Orange Shirt Day is also a time to look forward to a new period of healing and reconciliation. Williams Lake’s commitment to reconciliation is matched by our provincial government’s unwavering commitment to it. And, as your MLA, reconciliation is a goal I personally take to heart.
We know the only way we can truly learn from the past is to teach it.
That’s why events like Orange Shirt Day are so important, and why we have worked to include the history and legacy of residential schools in our school curriculum, along with broader First Nations perspectives, so we can promote understanding and move toward healing together.
For more about Orange Shirt Day and how you can be involved in events in Williams Lake, I encourage you to visit www.orangeshirtday.org. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at my constituency office at 250-991-0296 (toll free at 1-866-991-0296).
Coralee Oakes is the MLA for Cariboo North and Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction.