The start of the school year each fall triggers a wide variety of emotions for students from all walks of life.
For residential school survivors, September is a stark reminder about being scooped up and taken away from their families and friends for forced assimilation at church-administered schools set-up by the Canadian government.
Since 2013, Canadians have been invited to honour residential school survivors by participating in Orange Shirt Day annually on Sept. 30th.
“The date, September 30th, 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 (Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.),” Bonnie Harvey, Ktunaxa Nation Council (KNC) education ambassador from the Education and Employment sector wrote to the Pioneer by e-mail.
Orange Shirt Day is a legacy that began when the St. Joseph Mission Residential School Commemoration Project and Reunion events took place in Williams Lake in the spring of 2013. It united former students and families from the Secwepemc, Tsilhqot’in, Southern Dakelh and St’at’imc Nations with the Cariboo Regional District, school districts, civic organizations as well as elected officials from a number of municipalities by commemorating the residential school experience for survivors and their families to work toward healing and reconciliation.
“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, B.C.,” explained Harvey. “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 (Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.).”
The KNC honours both living and non-living residential school survivors annually on Orange Shirt Day. The staff and council encourage teachers to register their classes for the virtual event of Every Child Matters scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 30th, which is hosted by the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation and to wear orange shirts on September 30th to raise awareness for students who have been affected by attending residential schools.
The KNC team has created a poem available in both Ktunaxa and English with artwork to honour Orange Shirt Day. Anne Jimmie, Robert Louie Sr., Virginia Fisher, Dorothy Alpine and Darcy Luke contributed to the completion and distribution of the Orange Shirt Day poem.
In fact, the poem is now displayed in the gymnasium at the high school in Yaqan Nukiy, and students recite it during their morning pledge.
To learn more about Orange Shirt Day, please visit https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/what-is-orange-shirt-day
For those interested in learning more about residential schools from a historical perspective are encouraged to contact the KNC at 250-489-2464.