"The colour 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."
Phyllis Jack Webstad
September 30th marks the first year that the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, otherwise known as, Orange Shirt Day, is recognized as a federal statutory holiday. But the road to the national acknowledgment of this day started so much earlier.
Nearly 50 years ago, a six-year-old named Phyllis was sent by her grandmother to the Saint James Mission Indian Residential School for her first day of classes. On that day, she proudly wore a bright orange shirt-- a new shirt that her grandmother carefully chose for her. But as soon as Phyllis entered the steel doors of her new school, teachers stripped her of her beautiful shirt, along with her innocence, culture, and language. Her shirt, which was never recovered, came to symbolize the violent and forced erasure of the identity of tens of thousands of Canada's First People for over 150 years in the halls of 139 residential schools across the country.
As of this month, over 1,800 unmarked graves were discovered at various residential school sites compelling Canadians to face the reality that Indigenous people have been grappling with for over a century. Despite this shocking figure, the stories of these discoveries that initially made front-page news, have all but disappeared from current headlines. Even though these discoveries are no longer top stories in the mainstream media, we must never forget that for the families of the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children who never came home, their memory and their trauma are at the forefront of their every thought. This is their constant truth. And to move forward as a nation, we must acknowledge, accept, and empathize with their pain.
As a pathway toward more understanding, beginning on October 25th, CRRF will convene a webinar series highlighting the voices and experiences of Indigenous people from across the country. The first installment of the series will be a virtual tour of the Mohawk Residential School to give participants a taste of what life was like for a child attending a residential school. Next, on November 4th, a panel of Indigenous experts will talk about the "why" behind the residential school system in Canada and the legacy of trauma that it left in its wake. Finally, on November 25th, we will also discuss active partnerships with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people to achieve the true objective of reconciliation and healing.
CRRF pledges to keep this conversation going today and every day going forward because we must look at our past to plan for our future as a nation. We must reflect. We must remind ourselves of the possibility for change and be intentional about unlearning hatred, indifference, and intolerance. We must work toward perfecting settler allyship with Indigenous people who have been wronged for so long. We must do all of this for Phyllis and the thousands of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children like her. The ones who came home and the ones who did not.
Want to learn more about the history of the residential school system and the steps you can take toward reconciliation? Check out these resources and events:
ORANGE SHIRT DAY HISTORY
The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land Rebuilding the Economy by Arthur Emanuel and Chief Ronald Derrickson
The Education of Augie Merasty by Joseph August (Augie) Merasty with contribution by David Carpenter
Aboriginal Peoples and the Law: A Critical Introduction by Jim Reynolds
From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless and Finding My Way by Jesse Thistle
Into the West
The Angry Inuk