Message from the SLRD Board Chair: Orange Shirt Day

Sep 25, 2020
Affected Communities: 
All Areas

Orange Shirt Day is September 30th and is a day to remember the suffering of indigenous children in government run residential schools. It is one of those things that garner a lot of attention when they are first established but which can easily become just another ‘colour’ day. Let’s not allow this to happen.

Bob Joseph of “Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples” says in his blog:

Orange shirt day is a movement that officially began in 2013 but in reality it began in 1973 when six year old Phyllis Webstad entered the St. Joseph Mission Residential School, outside of Williams Lake, BC. Young Phyllis was wearing a brand new orange shirt for her first day of school – new clothes being a rare and wonderful thing for a First Nation girl growing up in her grandmother’s care - but the Mission Oblates quickly stripped her of her new shirt and replaced it with the school’s institutional uniform.

While she only attended for one year the impact affected Ms. Webstad’s life for many years. “I finally get it, that feeling of worthlessness and insignificance, ingrained in me from my first day at the mission, affected the way I lived my life for many years. Even now, when I know nothing could be further than the truth, I still sometimes feel that I don’t matter.”

Ms. Webstad’s story is the nucleus for what has become a national movement to recognize the experience of survivors of Indian residential schools, honour them, and show a collective commitment to ensure that every child matters. The initiative calls for every Canadian to wear an orange shirt on September 30 in the spirit of healing and reconciliation.

The date, September 30, was chosen because that was the time of the year the trucks and buses would enter the communities to “collect” the children and deliver them to their harsh new reality of cultural assimilation, mental, sexual and physical abuse, shame and deprivation.

We need to have Orange Shirt Day because of the fact that there are thousands of First Nations people living in BC who were sent to these schools and still suffer as a result. The experiences of residential school inmates impacted not only their own lives but their children also. Many of the issues that First Nations governments are dealing with today can be traced back to the abuses of the residential schools. We definitely do need to remember that part of our history and to think about what we can do to assist with the process of reconciliation.

Please wear an orange shirt on September 30th. Please be prepared to cast a positive eye on efforts that local, provincial and the federal governments make to advance the reconciliation process.

Thank you for reading this.   

Tony Rainbow

Chair, Squamish-Lillooet Regional District

Quote has been reproduced with permission.

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