On Friday, Sept. 29 Quu'asa staff held a walk to recognize Orange Shirt Day, which is in honour of past residential school students - including a girl who had her new orange shirt taken upon entering the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school in Williams Lake, B.C. (Denise Titian photo)
The NTC Quu’asa staff led an Orange Shirt Day walk on Friday, Sept.29 in recognition of the harm the residential school system did to the children’s sense of well-being and self-esteem.
Sept. 30 has been declared Orange Shirt Day, an annual event that started in 2013 after a residential school survivor, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, shared her story of her first day there.
Orange Shirt Day is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission (SJM) residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, B.C., in the spring of 2013. It grew out of Phyllis' story of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the mission. It has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually.
Phyllis was only six years old when she was sent to SJM. Money was hard to come by but Phyllis’ grandmother scraped together enough money to buy the little girl a bright orange shirt that she adored. But the shirt was taken from her upon her arrival at SJM, never to be seen again.
The date for Orange Shirt Day was chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools, and because it is an opportunity to set the stage for anti-racism and anti-bullying policies for the coming school year. It also gives teachers time to plan events that include children, in order to ensure that they pass on Phyllis Webstad’s story for the next generations to learn.
Quu’asa Outreach Worker Richard Watts shared Phyllis’ story to the crowd gathered for the walk. The small group gathered at the Quu’asa office building on lower Third Avenue, making their way for a short walk to Harbour Quay before returning for refreshments.
Watts told the crowd that today’s walk is a reminder to lift our children up and recognize the importance of self-esteem and self-worth. “Let help them to be proud that they are First Nations,” he told the crowd.
Walkers carried a banner that had been made earlier that day by students of Eighth Avenue Learning Center taught by Nuu-chah-nulth Education Worker Richard Samuel. He said the activity brought opportunities to talk about residential school legacies and raise awareness of Orange Shirt Day.
Orange Shirt Day is recognized by the provincial government. The government and the Orange Shirt Society joined forces to highlight the intergeneration impact of residential schools. Together they delivered the message that ‘Every Child Matters’.
Orange Shirt Day is also an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come. On this day of Sept. 30, we call upon humanity to listen with open ears to the stories of survivors and their families and to remember those that didn’t make it.