Students and staff remember those impacted by residential schools in Canada
Phyllis Webstad was six-years old when she went to her first day at a residential school in 1973.
When she arrived her bright orange shirt, along with the rest of her clothes, were stripped from her.
“She never saw it again,” said Pauline Shirt who is the elder at George Brown College (GBC). “And thats what happened with us when we went to residential school. Everything was stripped off us.”
From that day onward, the colour orange was a reminder of how her feelings didn’t matter.
The Indigenous education and services team at GBC marked Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 27 in remembrance of the survivors of residential schools.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture.”
A sea of orange shirts made their way from an educational workshop onto GBC’s St. James second floor patio to join in a circle and celebrate the memory of Webstad and other residential school survivors.
People from multiple generations who were affected by residential schools shared their stories and experiences with heart-felt tears and invited the circle to stand strong in support of them.
Orange Shirt Day started in Williams Lake, B.C. in the spring of 2013 to commemorate people like Webstad who went to the St. Joseph Mission residential school.
It has now spread to commemorations across the country, including at GBC.
“I think the first Orange Shirt Day, we had maybe 15 people and today there were well over 75,” said Leslie Van Every, a former GBC student who co-ordinated the event. “The support and awareness have increased as well.”
“My grandparents were residential school survivors so today helped me to remember what they went through,” said Alexa Rudi, an ACE upgrading student at the college.
An important tradition that Shirt shared with participants was the water ceremony. While Tasunke Pejuta played a hand drum, cups of water were handed out to each person in the circle.
“We ask people to look at that water, see yourself, see what it is you are going through, and that water will help you cleanse yourself,” said Shirt.
“Indigenous values and knowledge are important and valuable,” said Ethan Dankert-Lannigan, social service worker student. “It’s important to look at other things from a different perspective and not just a western one.”