Orange shirts, events and calls for change to mark National Day for Truth and Reconciliation at Brock

A series of events and a sea of orange shirts will mark Brock’s observation of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

Also known as Orange Shirt Day by many Indigenous communities, the time of reflection will be formally observed across the country on Saturday, Sept. 30, and is meant to honour and remember the more than 150,000 Indigenous children forced to attend residential schools in Canada.

The day has its origins in 1973, when Phyllis (Jack) Webstad 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., leaving her feeling as though she didn’t matter.

To show support and also allow students, staff and faculty to attend gatherings in their own communities, Brock’s Hadiya’dagénhahs First Nations, Métis and Inuit Student Centre will host evening events Thursday, Sept 28 and Saturday, Sept. 30 as well as a full day of activities on Friday, Sept. 29.

During that time, all members of the Brock community are encouraged to wear their orange shirts and to attend events, where they will learn about and reflect on the legacy and ongoing impact of Canada’s residential school system.

Hadiya’dagénhahs Event Co-ordinator Willow Shawanoo-Kechego said the day is of great significance and signals a change in the way history is being taught and remembered.

“As an intergenerational survivor, our history was not taught when I was growing up, and it was also regularly discredited by those with a duty to teach,” she said. “Seeing people now wearing orange, acknowledging the day and wanting to learn about the true history of Turtle Island is something that gives me hope for our next seven generations.”

The events will kick off on Sept. 28 when Hadiyaˀdagénhahs partners with the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre to host a ticketed film screening of The Nature of Healing, which is the spoken truth of seven people who survived the Mohawk Institute, Canada’s first and longest-running residential school.

On Sept. 29, observations will begin at sunrise when a ceremonial fire is lit at 6:45 a.m. at the fire pit next to Alphie’s Trough. A Survivors’ Flag-raising ceremony will follow at 8 a.m. at the flag poles in front of the Schmon Tower prior to a day’s worth of reflective exercises from author Dawn Cheryl Hill and advocate/artist Vanessa Brousseau. All activities are free and will also include a lunch that features drumming, hand drumming and a book sale; the heart garden display in front of Schmon Tower; and drop-ins at the fire pit all day before a closing ceremony at 3:30 p.m.

On Sept. 30, the Brock community is also welcomed by Hadiyaˀdagénhahs and Brock Sports to attend at no cost the University’s men’s lacrosse game against Laurentian at 7 p.m. on Alumni Field, which will feature dancers, water drumming and a participatory standing quiver that will include all in attendance.

Orange shirts are encouraged at all events and can be purchased from a variety of Indigenous creators, including shirts designed by Hadiyaˀdagénhahs staff at the Campus Store, where all proceeds will go to the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford. Next week, the Campus Store and  Hadiya’dagénhahs will be launching a T-shirt design contest centred around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. Details will be available on the Campus Store Instagram account.

Hadiya’dagénhahs Director Cindy Biancaniello said next week’s events are an opportunity for everyone to demonstrate their recognition of what happened in residential schools and the ripple effect it has on families.

“It’s a time when you can show your support of First Nations, Métis and Inuit by listening and learning about the truth,” she said. “Show up, learn, ask questions and participate.”

Biancaniello said it is critical to understand the meaning behind the orange shirt.

“Wearing an orange shirt and attending events are some of the many ways to commit to reconciliation, but knowing why you are wearing it and sharing the truth behind it is a testament to your commitment,” she said.

Additional registration and event information can be found on the Hadiya’dagénhahs ExperienceBU page.

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