Orange Shirt Day Honouring Residential School Survivors

By Paul Morden
Sarnia Observer
September 28, 2020

Residential school survivor Geraldine Robertson is shown in this file photo. FILE PHOTO / THE OBSERVER

Elementary and high school students in the Sarnia area are being encouraged to join others from across Canada in wearing orange shirts Wednesday to honour survivors and victims of residential schools.

Orange Shirt Day is a national event held on Sept. 30 to commemorate the experience of approximately 150,000 Metis, Inuit and First Nations children who were forced to attend residential schools between the 1830s and 1990s, where they experienced harsh discipline and conditions, suppression of their language and culture, and other abuse. It’s estimated 6,000 children died while attending the schools.

Orange Shirt Day originated with the story of Phyllis Webstad who, at age six, had a new orange shirt bought by her grandmother taken away on her first day at residential school in British Columbia.

By wearing orange shirts Sept. 30, and taking part in special sessions through the week, the board wants to help its communities hear and understand the stories of survivors of residential schools, Deb Crawford, director of education for the St. Clair Catholic District school board, said.

“This is an important step in reconciliation,” she said.

The Lambton Kent District school board it’s also encouraging staff and students to wear orange shirts Wednesday “to promote learning and understanding about the residential school system and its impact on First Nations, Metis and Inuit people in Canada.”

“We do so to acknowledge and honour the survivors of residential schools, as well as the children and young people who never returned home,” Helen Lane, a superintendent with the public board, said.

She said schools have been provided with online resources and will participate in a national virtual event to honour survivors, their families and communities.

Classes in the Catholic board are also being encouraged to take part in virtual online presentations that includes Webstad sharing her story, and Geraldine Robertson, a resident of Aamjiwnaang First Nation who attended residential school and was named to the Order of Canada in 2018 for her work to raise awareness and help her fellow survivors heal.

Robertson was taken at age 11 to residential schools for a period of four years she described as “living in hell.”

“We’ve been denigrated as a nation for so long that we ourselves have to change that image,” Robertson said.

And the only way to do that, she added, “is by speaking up” and by providing role models.

“That’s what I try to do.”

Other presentations offered during the week to classrooms in the Catholic system include Cecil Isaac and Cedric Isaac, Knowledge Keepers from Bkejwanong Territory; Moses Lunham, an artist and storyteller from Kettle and Stony Point First Nation; a Woodland Cultural Centre virtual tour; and an event from the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

Classes in the Catholic board are also being encouraged to create displays informing others about Orange Shirt Day and the importance of recognizing the legacy of residential schools.

“By speaking with and to each other, we are helping future generations to understand the lasting impacts of Canada’s residential schools system,” Crawford said.








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