Hardships of First Nations children felt at residential schools remembered with annual Orange Shirt Day
Orange Shirt Day, a day to remember and acknowledge the bitter legacy of residential schools in Canada, was held at many local schools on Friday.
The actual day falls on Sept. 30, and was started by Phyliss Webstad when she related how she was so proud of an orange shirt she received from her grandmother, whom she lived with on the Dog Creek reserve, just before going off to St. Joseph Mission residential school as a child. Upon arrival at the school the shiny shirt was abruptly stripped off by school staff and replaced by a dark uniform.
The story has become symbolic of all that was lost for residential school children, says Raevon Gehring, First Nations, Inuit, Métis co-ordinator for the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education.
“How would that make a child feel?” asks Gehring. “Knowing they were so proud of that, and then to be stripped of it. The orange shirt symbolizes the losses First Nations have suffered in residential schools. We surround that thought in our schools with the discussion for students that every child matters. That’s very important discussion for everyone to acknowledge here in Canada. That is why we mark this day, to create greater awareness.”
The message was certainly clear for St. Michael’s School Grade 3 student Raelyn Kutanzi.
“Every child is loved,” she said when asked what Orange Shirt Day means to her. “The orange shirt means every kid matters. We have lots of different kids at our school and we all get along with each other. We are like a big family.”
St. Mike’s Grade 2 student Tyrell Manas said Orange Shirt Day made him think about his own beliefs.
“Every child matters. Jesus made everyone the same,” he said.
Students all over the city marked Orange Shirt Day to raise awareness of the negative effects of Canada's residential school system on First Nations peoples. Pictured: Students at St. Michael's Elementary School show off their Orange Shirt Day T-shirts and wristbands on Friday.