Story submitted by: Joan Sorely
Orange Shirt Day, held on September 30th annually, is a legacy of the St. Joseph Mission residential school commemoration event held in Williams Lake, BC, Canada, in the spring of 2013. It grew out of Phyllis Webstad’s account of having her shiny new orange shirt taken away on her first day of school at the Mission, and it has become an annual discussion on all aspects of residential schools. The date was chosen because it is the time of year in which 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. Orange Shirt Day is also an opportunity for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come.
The orange shirt, once associated with a loss of belonging and self-worth, has become a symbol of defiance against bullying and racism, and of our commitment to ensuring that “Every Child Matters” from here on. The movement is growing, with 30,000 hits on the Facebook page during the week of September 30th last year, and people posting pictures of their celebrations across Canada and in the US, as well as parts of Europe. It all started right here in the Cariboo, and as a result, School District 27 has been chosen to pilot curriculum changes for all Grade 5 and Grade 10 students reflecting the residential school experience, to be implemented province-wide.
Resolutions have been passed in support of Orange Shirt Day by local governments, school districts, and First Nations in the Cariboo and beyond. Most recently the AFN Chiefs-in-Council passed a resolution declaring Orange Shirt Day “a first step in reconciliation”, and pledging to bring the message home as well as to the government of Canada and the churches responsible.
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