Today (Sept. 30) marks Orange Shirt Day – an initiative to raise awareness about the harm done by government-run residential schools.
Mike Pue, district principal of Aboriginal education in Langley, told the Advance Times how students in the community will take part in the day.
Today, RCMP employees are wearing orange to honour and remember the Indigenous children who were sent away to Residential Schools. Take this day to reflect on the past, recognize our role, and start the conversation. #reconciliation #OrangeShirtDay pic.twitter.com/P9GxcLkphw
— RCMP (@rcmpgrcpolice) September 30, 2020
“While, due to COVID-19, staff and students may not be able to gather in assemblies or formal ceremonies as they normally would, staff are working together to plan age appropriate learning opportunities that can be completed within their classrooms and learning groups,” he said.
Started in 2013, Orange Shirt Day was inspired by a story shared by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad.
“Orange Shirt Day grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s story of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at a residential school and it has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually,” Pue explained.
“It is a day to honour residential school survivors and those that did not return, with September 30th being chosen because it is the time of year in which children were taken from their homes to residential schools.”
— Langley Schools (@LangleySchools) September 30, 2020
In 2007, the federal government implemented the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).
From 2007 to 2015, the TRC travelled across the country hearing from more than 6,500 witnesses to the residential school system, according to the government website.
Langley-based Trinity Western University (TWU) had the opportunity to take part in the public hearings that preceded the Commission’s final report making 94 calls to action, Patti Victor recalled, a TWU professor and Indigenous Elder.
“Rather than having classes on campus, we took busloads of students, staff and faculty to the [TRC] event in Vancouver, so that they could hear the story firsthand,” Victor said.
Victor believes that the calls to action signal how change is going to take place at a nationwide, societal level.
“The first step to reconciliation is healing the history and understanding that it’s a shared history. It’s not just an Indigenous history,” Victor noted.
Orange Shirt Day: Join us today to hear Patricia Victor, University Siya:m, speak on remembering, responding and reconciliation in Chapel at 11AM followed by an on-campus event titled "Remember and Respond" at 3PM in front of RNT.https://t.co/3fkqqnXyme pic.twitter.com/RAbtTcaytm
— Trinity Western University (@TrinityWestern) September 30, 2020
As part of her teaching practice, Victor had welcomed people from the Indigenous community to speak to TWU students.
“Many young adults know about the residential schools. But they don’t know about the resilience of the people,” she noted.
Meanwhile, today (Sept. 30) elementary and secondary students in Langley will be learning about the history of residential schools, Pue said.
“While the learning opportunities will focus on having a better understanding of the history of residential schools and the long lasting effects that it has had on Aboriginal peoples and communities, many will also ask students and staff to reflect on their own story and how they can engage in the process of reconciliation,” he noted.
“In the younger grades, the focus may be more on building relationships, honouring diversity and treating each other with respect,” he added. “For older grades, it may look to include further learning around the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”
Pue believes the school community can benefit from further learning opportunities outside of Orange Shirt Day.
“While as a district, we want to make sure we honour Orange Shirt Day and what it represents, we want to make sure that it does not become a singular event in our students’ learning,” he said.