Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, was the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Whether you have the day off or not, we hope you did not let the day slip by without some sombre reflection on the history of residential schools and their impact in Canada.
On Sept. 30, 2013, the very first Orange Shirt Day occurred right here in Williams Lake.
Inspired by the residential school story of Phyllis Webstad, whose brand new shiny orange shirt was taken away upon her arrival the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School near Williams Lake, Orange Shirt Day has been acknowledged every year since.
Webstad is Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Dog Creek) and said that experience made her feel like she didn’t matter.
Fast forward to 2021, and the Orange Shirt Society has an office in Williams Lake and Webstad is part of the society’s team.
Williams Lake’s own main street has orange banners displayed on lampposts with the words ‘Every Child Matters,’ a beautiful project led by the Northern Secwepmec te Qelmucw.
Although the issue of residential schools has been one that has increasingly taken a more prominent role in our national discourse since the official federal apology of 2010, the last six months have seen a more acute focus because of the uncovering of unmarked grave sites at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in May.
Closer to home, a ground analysis is underway at the former St. Joseph’s Mission site. Many of our First Nations neighbours and their family members throughout the Cariboo Chilcotin attended the school.
For Indigenous people especially, the unmarked graves either served as a reminder of the direct horrors experienced in the government-sponsored schools or reopened wounds of survivors’ descendants who have experienced generational trauma, familial instability and cultural loss and detachment.
It is important that Sept. 30 serves as an opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to honour the survivors and recognize the impact of residential schools from their own perspectives.
Williams Lake Tribune with files from Black Press Media