The Langley School District is getting ready to take part in Orange Shirt Day on Monday, Sept. 30, in an effort to raise awareness of the harm done by government-run residential schools.
The schools once took Indigenous children away from their families to assimilate them into colonized Canada, with terrible consequences that rippled through communities for generations to come.
Started in 2013, Orange Shirt Day was inspired by a story shared by residential school survivor Phyllis Webstad.
In 1973, Webstad was living with her grandmother on the Dog Creek Reserve in B.C. when she was forced to attend St. Joseph Mission residential school, according to the Orange Shirt Day website.
“We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school,” read the letter posted online by Webstad.
Webstad chose a “shiny orange shirt” which she was stripped of on her first day of residential school.
September 30 was chosen for the annual awareness campaign because it is around the time of year when Indigenous children were taken from their homes to residential schools.
Cecelia Reekie, a former school trustee turned cultural presenter in the Langley School District, believes Orange Shirt Day is about more than the residential school system.
“I think Orange Shirt Day is a way to begin the conversation, continue the conversation and to start to dig deeper into the issues of Indigenous people in this country and our relationship with Indigenous people,” she said. “Some [Canadians] are very knowledgeable in the history, some don’t know a thing and some adults and some people will be hearing about Orange Shirt Day for the first time.”
Reekie runs workshops for students in grades two through five educating them about such things as Indigenous people, residential schools, colonization, and missing and murdered Indigenous women.
“We’re raising a generation of children who are going to know this history, I mean they’re really going to move us into reconciliation in a big way as our students in the public school system and even in the private school system learn this history and become adults,” she said.
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.
In June 2015, the Commission put forward 94 recommendations to continue reconciliation between Canadians and Indigenous peoples.
As part of this process, a historical record of the residential school system was created, and all documents collected are now housed at the University of Manitoba by the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
Reekie looks forward to the day when Canadians don’t need reminding about the tragedies that took place.
“My hope would be one day we wouldn’t need to have Orange Shirt Day,” she said.
The Lower Fraser Valley Aboriginal Society is selling orange T-shirts with the message, “every child matters” and can be purchased online at www.lfvas.org/orange-shirt-day/orange-shirts.