Orange Shirt Day aims for education, recognition

Orange Shirt Day aims for education, recognition
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Taylor Brunet, 6, shows off her orange t-shirt as part of Orange Shirt Day Wednesday. Photo submitted

The residential school system is not just a part of Canada’s past.

It is also part of the future.

Because the residential school system had such a profound impact on the children who were forced into it, as well as their families, the native population is still feeling the effects, says Joanne Koehler, executive director of Niijaansinaanik Child and Family Services.

“A lot of people don’t understand what residential schools did,” she said in an interview Wednesday on Orange Shirt Day in North Bay.

A dozen people associated with Niijaansinaanik attended the event, sporting orange shirts in an effort to educate and promote awareness in Canada about the residential school system “and multigenerational trauma and its impact on indigenous communities, ”the service said in a press release.

This effort, Koehler says, is gaining recognition across the country, especially in schools where many students and staff wear orange shirts to commemorate children who have gone through the system.

“Throughout history, the history of the Indigenous peoples of Canada has not been taught,” says Koehler. But efforts like Orange Shirt Day are raising awareness of this and the residential school system.

It is also important, she says, that the federal and provincial governments “recognize the wrongs of the past. It was not just the Canadian government. The provinces were there too, ”she says.

And even though what happened is in the past, “the effects are still there,” Koehler says.

“We cannot leave this in the past. It affects the present. It will affect the future. “

Koehler also says she likes to think that because of the effort, “teachers are more aware of the meaning of Orange Shirt Day and will bring it to the classroom.”

September 30 has been declared Orange Shirt Day every year, in recognition of the damage the residential school system has done to children’s sense of self-worth and well-being, and as an affirmation of our commitment to do so that everyone around us counts.

The day is named after an incident in the life of Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, who attended St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission, British Columbia, during a school year in 1973-1974.

Webstad had just turned six and lived with his grandmother on the Dog Creek Reserve in the Secwepemc Nation in British Columbia.

“We never had a lot of money, but my grandmother managed to buy me a new outfit to go to Mission School. I remember going to Robinson’s store and choosing a shiny orange shirt. It had a string laced in the front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt like I was going to school, ”she writes on orangeshirtday.org.

But when she got to school, “they stripped me and took my clothes, including the orange shirt!” I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they didn’t want to give it back to me, it was mine!

“The color orange always reminded me of that and how little my feelings mattered, how nobody cared and how I felt I was worthless. All the little children were crying and no one cared.

The last federal residential school closed in 1996.

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