Students at Boyle School donned their orange shirts Sept. 28 to commemorate Orange Shirt Day, a national day held annually Sept. 30 to promote awareness about the residential school system and the impact it had on Canada’s Indigenous communities.
Sandra McBride, the inclusive education co-ordinator for Boyle School, said the event is a recognition of the importance of our heritage and where we all come from.
“It helps us to recognize our history, as well as the value placed on all lives,” McBride said. “Each class also watched a video about Webstad, and how she started Orange Shirt Day to commemorate the hardships students faced at residential schools.”
According to its website, the Orange Shirt Society is a non-profit organization in Williams Lake, BC where Orange Shirt Day began in 2013.
The website has a page dedicated to the story of Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor who is Northern Secwpemc (Shuswap) from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Indian Band).
On the page, Webstad states she had just turned six years old when her grandmother managed to buy her a shiny orange shirt to go to the Mission school in 1973/1974.
“When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt!” Webstad wrote. “I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! 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. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.”
Boyle School principal Sharon Kucey said Orange Shirt Day is used at the school to teach the students about rights and responsibilities and what human rights are.
“This is our way of showing that we do respect the Indigenous people,” Kucey said. “It also shows that we understand what they have gone through in the past.”
She added that Webstad’s story is told to every grade level so that they understand what this day is all about.
“The Grade 1 students, for example, were being taught about rights as human beings,” Kucey said. “It’s a hard subject for children to grasp, but they did understand it when the teacher explained what happened to Phyllis and her shirt. The shirt represented a symbol of what was taken away from the indigenous community.”
She said Indigenous studies is part of the school’s curriculum.
“In September 2019, it will also be part of both the teacher’s and principal’s quality standards,” Kucey said. “Just to incorporate Indigenous studies within our curriculum is what we always try to do, as we also have an Indigenous population in our school. It’s important to acknowledge their culture, as well as all cultures.”
Support from students
Kucey said they usually get a great response from students every year on Orange Shirt Day.
“I think that it’s good, because we are supporting the people who went through the residential schools,” said Grade 7 student Brynn Brassard.
Fellow Grade 7 student Machenna Burt said it would of been tough for her to live under the same circumstances the residential school survivors did.
“I would not have survived, and it’s sad to know that many of them did not either,” Burt said. “No colours allowed, and that was just wrong. And by cutting their hair, they took away their identity. That was just wrong.”
Grade 9 student Ben Mandrusiak said during the movie they watched, Webstad said she had to eat onions all the time as that is all that was available.
“I would not want to go through what the Indigenous people did in those schools, and I wear my orange shirt every year to commemorate their hardship,” Mandrusiak said.