Six-year-old Phyllis Webstad wore her prized orange shirt on her first day of school in 1973. But when she arrived, her teachers stripped it from her as she began her time in one of Canada’s Indian residential schools.
Sept. 30 marks Orange Shirt Day, to commemorate the harm done to her and all the other First Nations children taken from their families and forced into the schools – the most egregious failed experiment in social engineering in our Canadian history.
People may scoff at yet another coloured-shirt “awareness campaign” but it’s clear a lot of our adult population was never taught about the schools.
When City of North Vancouver council voted in 2013 to help fund a memorial for the students of St. Paul’s Indian Residential school, which once stood where St. Thomas Aquinas secondary now stands, most members of council did not know there had been a residential school on the North Shore.
But the more than 2,000 Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Sechelt and Musqueam kids who were sent there between 1898 and 1959, they knew. So too would their children and grandchildren – often called the “survivors of the survivors” thanks to the harmful multi-generational impacts produced by the residential school system.
We’re hopeful with recent changes to our provincial school curriculum that this chapter in our collective past will be better understood by our own kids in the future.
We will wear our orange shirts on Friday not because we think it will fix any of the wrongs that have been done but in “spirit of reconciliation and hope for generations of children to come,” as Webstad has requested.
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