Heading into a local eatery to grab a sandwich, I was greeted by one of our high school parents who asked my why I was dressed so casually today. She saw the orange tee shirt over khaki pants and her curiosity was piqued. The encounter  gave me the opportunity to share with her a little bit of our school district’s efforts to help our staff, students and the broader community to better understand the devastating impacts of residential schools on Aboriginal children and their families across this country.

Orange Shirt Day was inspired by Phyllis Jack Webstad, a Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation elder in Williams Lake, B.C., and by her first day at residential school in 1973, when she was six.

“We never had very much money, and there was no welfare, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school,” Webstad recalled.

“I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting — just like I felt to be going to school!”

As it turned-out her first day at school was not at all what Webstad had so optimistically anticipated.

“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt!  I never saw it again.  I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine!”

And ever since then, the colour orange has held a special meaning to her.

“The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing,” she wrote. “All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”

After Webstad first told her story, Orange Shirt Day was launched in 2013 in Williams Lake to honour all of the residential school survivors and remember those who did not survive that experience.

I believe that Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, hit the mark with his observation that because the education system was the primary tool of oppression wielded against Aboriginal people, education must play a key role in creating understanding and acceptance of Canada’s dark legacy of residential schools.

More importantly, our public education system must now create the conditions and provide learning opportunities that will allow all children and their families to be proud of their identity, language, culture and history.

I really don’t care if you feel responsible for the past. The real question is do you feel a sense of responsibility for the future because that’s what this is all about.

 

Justice Murray Sinclair

Rollie Koop

Superintendent of Schools