Orange shirts, events and displays to recognize history of residential schools

While Cindy Biancaniello prepares to don her orange shirt for a week of remembrance activities, she is hopeful people she encounters will ask about its bright colour while learning about a dark part of history.

The Director of Brock’s newly renamed Hadiyaˀdagénhahs First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Centre is encouraging people to participate in the many events and displays at the University throughout the final week of September to recognize the multigenerational legacy of the residential school system in Canada.

Held in conjunction with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Friday, Sept. 30, the events aim to remember the more than 150,000 Indigenous children forced to attend schools away from their families, where various forms of abuse took place. Many children did not survive.

“We have an obligation to honour those children who didn’t survive Indian residential schools and to recognize those who did,” says Biancaniello. “We also have to be mindful that those survivors live with trauma, and the impact it carries is passed down for generations.”

Through taking the time to remember, Biancaniello says everyone who engages with the events will be able to share knowledge and history that was forcibly hidden away in the past.

“Cultural traditions that were once endangered are now being revitalized and strengthened, and there is a great opportunity for non-Indigenous people to learn Indigenous ways of knowing,” she says.

Events of remembrance will be held in and around the University in the week prior to the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

They will begin with a visit from Phyllis (Jack) Webstad, who, in 1973, was stripped of a new orange shirt purchased by her grandmother on her first day at the St. Joseph Mission residential school in Williams Lake, B.C. The action left her feeling worthless and insignificant, and sparked the movement that would eventually become Orange Shirt Day and the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

On Friday, Sept. 23, Webstad will visit Brock’s main campus to participate in the raising of the Survivors’ Flag at 10 a.m., which will remain flying at half-mast in front of the University until Saturday, Oct. 1. She will also share in a lunch with Indigenous students and employees, and sign books in the Hadiyaˀdagénhahs First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Centre from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

The Brock community is invited to hear Webstad present at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on Monday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. Tickets are pay what you can.

Tuesday, Sept. 27 will see Brock’s Acting Vice-Provost, Indigenous Engagement Robyn Bourgeois host a launch event for local author Patty Krawec’s book Becoming Kin from 7 to 9 p.m. at Silver Spire United Church in downtown St. Catharines.

Also led by Bourgeois, the University’s Decolonial Reading Circle (DRC) will hold a virtual information session on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 6:30 p.m. Participants will learn about the DRC’s plans to explore the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and to host discussions with Indigenous creators. Participants must sign up online in advance.

Friday, Sept. 30 will be a non-instructional day observed at Brock in honour of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The Schmon Tower will be illuminated in orange in the evening, and those wishing to mark the day are invited to wear orange shirts, visit the heart garden in front of the Rankin Family Pavilion, and to take part in a series of reflective activities.

Hosted by the Centre for Pedagogical Innovation, in partnership with Co-op Career and Experiential Education, Human Rights and Equity, Student Life and Success, Graduate Studies and the Brock University Library, the reflective activities will be based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, and will take place online and in person in ST103, ST105, and ST108 from 10 a.m. to noon. The Library will be screening Indigenous films from the National Film Board of Canada from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Classroom B of the Matheson Learning Commons.

There will also be several events in the community, such as the Orange Shirt Day Recognition of Survivors taking place at the Niagara Parks Power Station from 10 to 11 a.m.

The week of events will conclude on Saturday, Oct. 1, when Brock co-sponsors the Niagara Regional Native Centre’s powwow devoted to residential school survivors at Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

As she prepares to attend many of the events, Bourgeois says there is a significance that comes with gathering together in community.

“Residential schools separated us to cause harm,” she says. “Coming together as community is an essential means for undoing the harm and healing — collectively and as individuals.”

She hopes all members of the Brock community will take steps to support their Indigenous colleagues during a time that can be difficult.

“Not an Indigenous person on campus has been untouched by the colonial violence of residential schools,” Bourgeois says.  “This can be a difficult time for many of us. Please take time to check in on your Indigenous friends.”

Participants in all events are invited to wear orange shirts, which can be purchased from a variety of Indigenous creators. Orange shirts designed by Hadiyaˀdagénhahs staff, as well as orange key chains and earrings, are available for purchase at the Campus Store, where all proceeds will go to the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford. The shirts are designed to spark conversation by displaying messages in four Indigenous languages, which emphasize the importance of protecting and honouring children.

Biancaniello says the upcoming events will provide further inspiration for ways to engage students and community members throughout the year.

“Hadiya’dagénhahs celebrates the resilience of Indigenous people,” she says. “At the First Nations, Metis and Inuit Student Centre, we are committed to supporting students on their learning journey all year round by hosting events and workshops on campus and in community with Elders at our side.”

To learn more about the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation events, contact Biancaniello at

Read more stories in: Community, Digital Displays, Faculty & staff, Featured, Front Page, Indigenous, News, People, Teaching & Learning
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,