When Phyllis (Jack) Webstad attended her first day at the St. Joseph Mission residential school in Williams Lake, B.C. in 1973, she couldn’t have known her outfit would one day spark a national day of recognition.
Webstad, who was just six-years-old at the time, proudly wore the new, bright orange shirt her grandmother bought for the occasion, only to be striped of it when she arrived at the school. To this day, the colour orange still reminds Webstad of how worthless and insignificant she felt.
On Monday, Sept. 30, the Brock University community, along with Canadians from coast to coast, are encouraged to participate in Orange Shirt Day to raise awareness of the history of Canada’s residential school system.
A timeline detailing the history of residential schools will be displayed in TH 145 (Aboriginal Services Lounge) in honour of Orange Shirt Day, and Schmon Tower will be illuminated in orange.
Cindy Biancaniello, Aboriginal Events Coordinator at Brock, says she hopes the timeline, which runs five feet long, will encourage students, staff and faculty to better understand the injustices that occurred as a result of residential schools.
Aboriginal Student Services offers cultural workshops so that students can learn more about their culture, which may have been limited due to having parents and grandparents who are residential school survivors.
“Aboriginal students take pride in their culture,” says Biancaniello. “Giving students the opportunity to not only learn about their own culture, but to educate their non-Aboriginal friends, helps build a sense of community.”
The next workshop will be held Wednesday, Oct. 2, where students can learn to make medicine pouches. Events occur biweekly and are listed on the Brock University – Aboriginal Student Services Facebook page.
Sandra Wong, Aboriginal Academic Support Coordinator/Instructor at Brock, says Orange Shirt Day “recognizes more than 100 years of a loss of culture.”
“Anyone can wear an orange shirt,” says Wong. “But it’s important to understand why.”
An estimated 150,000 Aboriginal youth were put into residential school systems, where approximately 6,000 students died. Today, there are approximately 80,000 residential school survivors in Canada.
To learn more about Orange Shirt Day, visit www.orangeshirtday.org