Former Langley school trustee Cecilia Reekie’s parting words as a member of the education board were about her desire to see a sea of orange throughout Langley schools on Orange Shirt Day, happening this year on Friday, Sept. 29.
“It’s heart-warming for me. To think that dream is being realized. It’s very exciting,” said Reekie.
“That was my last comment as a trustee [in 2014].”
|Dancer is a design by Makayla Goldsmith — one of two student designs available for purchase ahead of Orange Shirt Day in Langley School District.|
Reekie decided not to run again as a trustee and instead focus on spreading awareness about what residential schools did to try to take away Aboriginal culture and language. Since then, she has spoken at hundreds of schools in Langley, Surrey and Delta.
“Every school in Langley will be honouring Orange Shirt Day in some way or another and that is exactly what we wanted. I didn’t want the momentum to just fade away after I said that and I think it’s actually gained its own momentum, where people are engaged and students and educators are continuing the conversation on the path to reconciliation,” she said.
The District Leadership Team, bus drivers and custodians will all be wearing orange shirts, said Reekie.
Reekie’s father and many of her aunts and uncles are survivors of residential schools.
The colour of the shirt is significant.
Orange Shirt Day grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s story of having her new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the St. Joseph Mission residential school in Williams Lake.
Orange Shirt day has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually.
The date was chosen because it was at this time of year that 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.
“That shirt represents everything those kids lost. They lost their family, their language, culture and pride,” said Reekie.
An estimated 150,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their families and forced to live at residential schools across the country. More than 3,000 never made it home.
The schools were funded by the Canadian government, but run by numerous religious groups. Sexual and physical abuse, torture and mistreatment was widespread.
The idea behind the schools was to ‘take the Indian out of the child.’ They weren’t allowed to speak their language and they had their hair cut in a uniform way, and were often given new names or just a number.
Aboriginal education is now part of the B.C.-wide curriculum.
Karen Moraes, office co-ordinator and Orange Shirt organizer for the Lower Fraser Valley Aboriginal Society is busy taking orders for shirts and planning the Orange Shirt Day event taking place Saturday, Sept. 30 at Douglas Recreation Centre from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The LFVAS is comprised of a dedicated group of individuals who promote, support and advocate for services to meet the need of Aboriginal families in Langley.
Even before the new design of the orange shirt is ready for people to pick up, the T-shirts are selling really well, said Moraes.
Orange shirts are available through their website or at their office.
This year, the LFVAS held a competition for the design of this year’s orange shirt. The contest was open to anyone from age 10 to 24, said Moraes.
“We had some amazing submissions and it made it so hard to choose, we actually went with two designs.”
This year’s winners are “Dancer” by LFVAS Youth board member, Makayla Goldsmith, and “Heart” Orange Shirt design by Dorothy Peacock Elementary Grade 5 student Ciara Moraes.
“Two of my daughters submitted entries so I stepped away from judging.
“I promise I have nothing to do with it. But I am so proud of her and the design,” said Ciara’s mom.
Many students and staff at Dorothy Peacock will be wearing the shirts on Sept. 29.
Moraes said they are getting a lot of support and last year, all the elementary schools got involved and work is underway to get high school students more engaged in learning what Orange Shirt Day is all about.
“I think we are moving forward in a positive way and having a presence brings more awareness and understanding,” she said.
Moraes, who also works at the Township of Langley, said they are pushing for more Aboriginal programming to be offered through the recreation department of the Township.
The LFVAS will be remembering residential school survivors on Orange Shirt Day Saturday, Sept. 30 at Douglas Park Recreation Centre. There will be kids activities, bannock, sharing stories, and light refreshments.
Everyone is welcome to join in this day of reconciliation.