Orange Shirt Day this year falls on Sunday Sept. 30, and communities across B.C. are taking part in the annual day, to come together in the spirit of reconciliation.
Orange Shirt Day began in Williams Lake in 2013, and was so-called because it grew from local woman Phyllis Jack Webstad’s story of being stripped of her prized orange shirt on the first day of school at St Joseph Mission residential school, when she was six years old in 1973.
Now, Orange Shirt Day is recognized across the country, and the impact of Canada’s residential school system has been incorporated into B.C.’s school curriculum. The event has become an opportunity to keep the discussion on all aspects of residential schools happening annually, says Orangeshirtday.org.
In Fort St. James, the College of New Caledonia is working in partnership with Nak’az’dli Health Centre and Tl’az’ten Nation to host Orange Shirt Day on Sept. 28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Our support of Orange Shirt Day, the survivors of residential schools, and for those lost, is an important part of recognizing our shared history and path forward. This is a day for First Nations, local governments, schools and communities to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come,” says College of New Caledonia aboriginal liaison Patricia Prince.
Many local First Nations people in the Fort St. James region attended a school on the Nak’az’dli Reserve and were later taken to a residential school at Lejac Indian Residential School, says Patricia.
Patricia offered some information on the residential school, which was located in Fort St. James and operated from 1917 to 1976.
“Due to its location at the centre of Carrier country, the majority of students were Carrier, but Lejac also enrolled substantial numbers of students from neighbouring tribes, including the Sekani and the Gitksan nations,” she says.
“As with most other residential schools, former students have charged that they were physically and sexually abused.”
Patricia points out that the school closed just 42 years ago, “well within our generation.”
“Hence, the importance that we as a community should have those conversations in a good way to bring awareness and to ask ourselves, ‘What can I do to make help make things better?’ or ‘What personal commitment can I make to change the way in which I think?’, as many ask, ‘Why don’t they just get over it?’ or ‘That was a long time ago, they should just move on and let it go.’”
Patricia says creating safe spaces to have these discussions allows meaningful relationships to build.
“It isn’t about division, but a sense of unity and belonging for all. And, in combined efforts with Saik’uz and the Métis community, we hope to bring increased awareness that residential school continues to impacts the nations across Canada and the United States. That the pain felt by many is largely a collective one.”
School District 91 is getting involved with Orange Shirt Day events, with all district staff wearing orange shirts, and individual schools hosting their own awareness campaigns.
“It’s been the historical practice for everyone to do it in their own way. What that is across the board – it’ll vary, with large acknowledgments, the encouragement of wearing orange shirts, the telling of Phyllis’ Story, and in different ways. We have such a diverse community, but they do definitely acknowledge it,” says Leona Prince, SD91 district principal of aboriginal education.
The Fort St. James Orange Shirt Day event will run Friday, and free orange t-shirts will be offered on a first come, first served basis, with art by local Indigenous artist Clayton Gauthier. Fort St. James Mayor Rob MacDougall, Nak’az’dli Whut’en Chief Alec McKinnon and CNC’s Patricia Prince will all be in attendance, and there will be drumming and door prizes.
The schedule of events follows.
10 a.m. Cleansing ceremony with Jolene Prince at Our Lady of Snows Church
10:30 a.m. Orange Shirt Day awareness walk begins at Our Lady of Snows Church, ending at Kwah Hall
11 a.m. Arrive at Kwah Hall, followed by a welcoming for the day’s events and Ludi Musjek with Elders Society
12 p.m. salmon, rice, vegetable and Ningwus lunch (First come, first served; Elders first)
1 p.m. Educational Workshop: “Future Hope: From Intergenerational Effects & Residential Schools” with Neyus Professional Services
2:30 p.m. “Personal Commitments,” medicine pouch making and orange beaded lapel making with Genny Pierre & Patricia L. Prince
For more information, contributions or ways you can support this event, contact the College of New Caledonia’s aboriginal liaison Patricia Prince at 250-996-7019 or Nak’az’dli Health director’s assistant Carrie Nash at 250-996-7400.